Many criminals are more likely to go astray once they get out of prison if they faced longer sentences and more punitive conditions behind bars, say economists M. Keith Chen of Yale University and Jesse M. Shapiro of the University of Chicago, according to the Washington Post. “Harsher prison conditions are associated with significantly more post-release crime,” they say. The finding suggests doing hard time may only produce more hard-core crooks.
Shapiro and Chen looked at convicts with virtually identical criminal histories and examined the “security risk” score each federal prisoner is given before entering prison. The rating, which ranges from zero to 36, is based on the prisoner’s rap sheet, predisposition to violence, and other factors. The researchers focused on inmates who had ratings within a few points of each other but were assigned to different security levels because they were just under or over a cutoff. Chen and Shapiro reasoned that roughly similar criminals should have roughly equal probabilities of committing crimes once they were released. The results: Offenders who scored barely under the cutoff point and served time in a minimum-security environment were only half as likely to commit crimes in the three years after release as those unfortunates who scored just high enough to be sentenced to the next-higher security class. The same general pattern appeared to hold true at other cutoffs. Shapiro and Chen suspect that those who fall into the higher security class are housed with more hard-core, violent criminals who may school them in crime.