The economy and ex-cons’ odds of returning to jail

Excerpt from Journalist Resource (

Release from prison during an economic upswing may reduce the chance an offender returns to jail, a new study finds.

The issue: Over 10,000 prisoners are released from jail every week in the United States, according to the Department of Justice. Two-thirds are rearrested within three years. Academics have looked at numerous factors that may explain this recidivism rate. A new paper focuses on the role employment can play in helping former convicts adjust to life outside prison.

An academic study worth reading: “Local Labor Markets and Criminal Recidivism,” published by the Journal of Public Economics in December, 2016.

Study summary: Crystal Yang of Harvard Law School asks how the availability of jobs in the county where an offender was convicted – which is where 90 percent of inmates settle upon release – affects recidivism.

She looks at government data on 4 million prisoners released nationwide between 2000 and 2013, a period of both rapid economic growth as well as decline. She compares this with employment and earnings data from the Census Bureau, specifically on the wages of low-skilled men, who are the primary ex-prisoner population. Noting that the are many reasons former offenders struggle to find jobs – beyond conditions in the local economy or the prejudices of potential employers – Yang adds: “The vast majority of ex-offenders have low human capital, limited job experience, and suffer from mental and substance-abuse issues, potentially impeding their ability to obtain employment regardless of criminal history.”

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