Two economics faculty in the Jack C. Massey College of Business — Dr. Colin Cannonier and Dr. Luke Petach — recently published papers in The Review of Black Political Economy. The published articles are part of a special volume, “Criminal Justice Reform: 2020 and Beyond,” which is intended to provide readers with a fascinating set of papers, but also to serve as a great way to commemorate the death of George Floyd and other events of the past summer.
In the paper titled “The Impact of a Reentry and Aftercare Program on Recidivism,” Cannonier and co-authors (which include a Belmont student) explore the impact of a reentry and aftercare service program on the likelihood of returning to prison by ex-offenders in Tennessee. Using administrative data within a difference-in-differences design, they find that this social program is associated with a reduction in recidivism rates. Benchmark estimates show that the program was associated with estimated reductions in the probability of recidivating of 6.0 to 8.7 percentage points or the equivalent of effect of 15.8-19.2 percent. The program helped to reduce recidivism among Whites but not Blacks; older participants were the main beneficiaries while the effectiveness of the program was observed among older participants. Back-of-the-envelope cost-savings analysis is incorporated to estimate the potential savings to the state arising from the reduction in recidivism rates likely attributable to the program. The results offer some implications for the role of faith-based social programs within the context of criminal justice reform to combat reentry of former inmates. They also provide a cautionary tale about the need to evaluate programs not just based on their overall effect.
In the paper “Local Labor Market Inequality in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” Petach and co-author contend that the rise of mass incarceration in the United States can be framed through the lens of stratification economics, which views race- and class-based discrimination as a rational attempt on behalf of privileged groups to preserve their relative status and the material benefits which that status confers. The authors are the first use local-level data set on incarceration rates by race to explore the relationship between income inequality, poverty, and incarceration at the commuting zone level from 1950 to the present. Consistent with Michelle Alexander’s hypothesis that expansion of the penal system and the rise of “tough on crime” policy were efforts by privileged groups to drive a wedge into working-class political coalitions formed out of the Civil Rights Movement, they find that labor markets with greater inequality experienced larger increases in the overall incarceration rate. They also find that relative rates of poverty play a key role in explaining differential effects of mass incarceration across race. Areas where White poverty rates were large relative to non-White poverty rates experienced no significant change in White incarceration, but an expansion of non-White incarceration. These findings have implications for policies related to economic and judicial systems.
The Review of Black Political Economy — peer-reviewed and published quarterly — is the leading outlet for research that examines issues related to the economic status of African-Americans and the African diaspora throughout the world. The journal promotes scholarship on economic inequality and provides a viable forum where scholars can express their views on matters of public policy relevant to the economic well-being of marginalized populations.