Aurelie Ouss

"No hatred or malice, fear or affection: Media and sentencing", joint with Arnaud Philippe

Accepted at the Journal Political Economy

Abstract: We explore how television broadcasting of unrelated criminal justice events affects sentencing. Exploiting as-good-as-random variation in news content before a verdict, we find that sentences are 3 months longer when the verdict is reached after coverage of crime. Sentence increase with media exposure to crime, not crime itself, and the effect tapers off quickly. Our results suggest that professional experience and expertise mitigates the effect of irrelevant external information. This paper highlights the influence of noise in the news cycle: media can temporarily influence decisions by changing what is top-of-the-mind, rather than signaling deeper changes in offending or societal concerns.

Working Paper

Online Appendix

"When Punishment Doesn't Pay: Cold Glow and Decisions to Punish", joint with Alex Peysakhovich

Journal of Law and Economics, vol. 58 (August 2015)

Abstract: Economic theories of punishment focus on determining the levels that provide maximal social material payoffs. In other words, these theories treat punishment as a public good. Several parameters are key to calculating optimal levels of punishment: total social costs, total social benefits, and the probability that offenders are apprehended. However, levels of punishment are often determined by aggregating individual decisions. Research in behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience shows that individuals appear to treat punishment as a private good (cold glow). This means that individual choices may not respond appropriately to the social parameters. We present a simple theory and show in a series of experiments that individually chosen punishment levels can be predictably too high or too low relative to those that maximize social material welfare. Our findings highlight the importance of the psychology of punishment for understanding social outcomes and for designing social institutions..

Working Paper

"Incentive Structures and Criminal Justice." (Under review)

Abstract: A common assumption in economics of crime is that punishment levels are chosen to equate marginal costs and benefits from society's perspective. I present empirical evidence suggesting that in practice, punishment is based on a narrower objective function. Incentives are often misaligned in the US: states pay for prison, but counties choose sentences. I exploit a natural experiment that shifted the cost burden of juvenile incarceration from state to counties, keeping overall costs and responsibilities unchanged. This resulted in a drop in incarceration, and no increase in arrests. Cost and benefit misalignment can result in excess incarceration without crime reduction.

Working Paper

"Jobs, News and Re-offending after Incarceration", joint with Roberto Galbiati and Arnaud Philippe. (Under review)

Abstract: We study how local labor market conditions and information about jobs affect recidivism among former inmates. Our identification strategy exploits daily variations on new job vacancies and news coverage of job openings and closings at the county level, merged with individual-level administrative data on inmates released from French prisons. Overall job creations do not affect recidivism, but inmates released when more jobs in manufacturing are created are less likely to recidivate. We also show that media coverage of job creation reduces recidivism, beyond actual employment opportunities, suggesting implications for crime-control policies: information about employment contributes to reduce recidivism.

Working Paper

"Prison as a School of Crime: Evidence from Cell-Level Interaction"

Abstract: This paper investigates how interactions in prison influence post-release behavior, establishing at a fine granularity level how prison might act as a "school of crime". Using French administrative data on all prisoners incarcerated since January, 2008, which includes cell allocation, we study interactions in own and cellmates' post-release behavior, and in particular in type of crime committed upon release, depending on self and cellmates' motive of incarceration. In French short-term prisons (which we focus on), cellmates typically spend a large portion of a day in their cells, and normal cell sizes are quite small (generally less than 6 inmates at a time), allowing us define extensively who one interacts with during the length of incarceration. By using number of days of overlap as a measure of intensity of interaction, we find evidence of peer effects for skill-intensive offenses, in case of recidivism.

"Collective Sentence Reductions and Recidivism", joint with Eric Maurin

Abstract: This paper exploits the collective pardon granted to individuals incarcerated in French prisons on the 14th of July, 1996 (Bastille Day) to identify the effect of collective sentence reductions on recidivism. The collective pardon generated a significant discontinuity in the relationship between the number of weeks of sentence reduction granted to inmates and their prospective date of release. We show that the same discontinuity exists in the relationship between recidivism five years after release and prospective date of release. Collective sentence reductions increase recidivism and do not represent a cost-effective way to reduce incarceration rates or prisons' overcrowding.