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Criminal Justice Involvement, Self-employment, and Barriers in Recent Public Policy

This study provides the first empirical evidence on the extent of self-employment within the U.S. justice-involved population. Using linked tax return and Criminal Justice Administrative Records System data, we find that 28 percent of individuals with criminal records are self-employed. Justice-involved individuals are 22 percent more likely to rely solely on self-employment. The Paycheck Protection Program, passed to support small business during the COVID-19 pandemic, initially disqualified those with a broad range of criminal histories. We find that close to three percent of recent sole-proprietors had observable PPP disqualifying
events based on initial eligibility criteria, with a disparate impact on Black and Hispanic business owners.

The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.


Hierarchical Approaches to Text-based Offense Classification

Researchers and statisticians working with multi-jurisdictional crime data often must classify offense information into a common scheme. No comprehensive standard currently exists, nor a mapping tool to transform raw description information into offense type variables. This paper introduces a new offense classification schema, the Uniform Crime Classification Standard (UCCS), and the Text-based Offense Classification (TOC) tool to address these shortcomings. The UCCS schema draws from existing Department of Justice efforts, with the goal of better reflecting offense severity and improving offense type disambiguation. The TOC tool is a machine learning algorithm that uses a hierarchical, multilayer perceptron classification framework, built on 313,209 unique hand-coded offense descriptions from 24 states, to translate raw description information into UCCS codes. In a series of experiments, we test how variations in data processing and modeling approaches impact recall, precision, and F1 scores to assess their relative influence on the TOC tool’s performance. The code scheme and classification tool are collaborations between Measures for Justice and the Criminal Justice Administrative Records System.

This paper is forthcoming in Science Advances.


Measuring Child Exposure to the U.S. Justice System: Evidence from Longitudinal Links between Survey and Administrative Data

Intergenerational exposure to the justice system is both a marker of vulnerability among children and a measurement of the potential unintended externalities of crime policy in the U.S. Estimating the size of this population has been hampered by inadequate data resources, including the inability to (1) observe non-incarceration sources of exposure, (2) follow children throughout their childhood, and (3) measure multiple adult influences in increasingly dynamic households. To overcome these challenges, we leverage billions of restricted administrative and survey records linked with the Criminal Justice Administrative Records System (CJARS). We find substantially larger prevalences of intergenerational exposure to the criminal justice system than previously reported: 9% of children born between 1999–2005 were intergenerationally exposed to prison, 18% to a felony conviction, and 39% to any criminal charge; charge exposure rates reach as high as 62% for Black children. We regress these newly quantified types of exposure on measures of child well-being to gauge their importance and find that all types of exposure (parent vs. non-parent, prison vs. charges, current vs. previous) are strongly negatively correlated with development outcomes, suggesting substantially more U.S. children are harmed by crime and criminal justice than previously thought.

This paper received a reject and resubmit at the Quarterly Journal of Economics.


The Criminal Justice Administrative Records System: A next-generation research data platform

The Criminal Justice Administrative Records System (CJARS), a joint project of the U.S. Census Bureau and the University of Michigan, is a nationally integrated data infrastructure project designed to transform research and policymaking on the United States criminal justice system. At the University of Michigan, CJARS collects longitudinal electronic records from criminal justice agencies and harmonizes these records to track a criminal episode across all stages of the system. At the U.S. Census Bureau, harmonized criminal justice records can be linked anonymously at the person-level with extensive social, demographic, and economic information from national survey and administrative records.

The paper was published in Scientific Data.


Does Welfare Prevent Crime? the Criminal Justice Outcomes of Youth Removed from SSI*

We estimate the effect of losing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits at age 18 on criminal justice and employment outcomes over the next two decades. To estimate this effect, we use a regression discontinuity design in the likelihood of being reviewed for SSI eligibility at age 18 created by the 1996 welfare reform law. We evaluate this natural experiment with Social Security Administration data linked to records from the Criminal Justice Administrative Records System. We find that SSI removal increases the number of criminal charges by a statistically significant 20% over the next two decades. The increase in charges is concentrated in offenses for which income generation is a primary motivation (60% increase), especially theft, burglary, fraud/forgery, and prostitution. The effect of SSI removal on criminal justice involvement persists more than two decades later, even as the effect of removal on contemporaneous SSI receipt diminishes. In response to SSI removal, youth are twice as likely to be charged with an illicit income-generating offense than they are to maintain steady employment at $15,000/year in the labor market. As a result of these charges, the annual likelihood of incarceration increases by a statistically significant 60% in the two decades following SSI removal. The costs to taxpayers of enforcement and incarceration from SSI removal are so high that they nearly eliminate the savings to taxpayers from reduced SSI benefits.

The paper was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.


Justice-Involved Individuals in the Labor Market since the Great Recession

We examine how individuals convicted of a felony or released from prison have fared in the labor market since the Great Recession. Using data from thirteen states in the Criminal Justice Administrative Records System (CJARS) linked with IRS W-2 information, we measure the employment and earnings of cohorts with focal criminal justice events before, during, and after the recession. These justice-involved cohorts experienced significant declines in employment and earnings during and immediately after the recession. Outcomes improved moderately during the long recovery but are still far below those of a reference group of people without high school degrees who were not involved in the justice system. We also correlate the employment outcomes of the justice involved to industry-specific local economic performance, finding that expansions in the construction and other services sectors are positively correlated with growing employment and especially earnings.

The paper was published in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and U.S. Census Bureau Working Papers series.