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Incarceration and the Transition to Adulthood.

September 2007

Gary Sweeten and Robert Apel.

Download 'working_paper07-23.pdf'.


Existing research establishes a lengthy list of adverse outcomes of incarceration that includes an elevated risk of criminal offending as well as unfavorable outcomes in the labor market, the institution of education, and the marriage market. These findings are consistent enough that it is tempting to attribute them to the causal effect of incarceration, particularly to the social stigma that attaches to individuals with a prison record. In light of the recent visibility of
this research and the importance of public policies that flow logically from it, we revisit the impact of juvenile (ages 16-17) and young adult (18-19) incarceration on short- and medium-term outcomes in a variety of domains. This paper is directly concerned with the problem of causal identification. We use the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 to estimate difference-indifferences models as well as propensity score matching. The empirical results suggest that there
is evidence of causal effects for some types of outcomes. For example, while we find that incarceration reduces the probability of formal employment, we find no adverse effect on wages among those who are employed. We find that the most consistent negative outcomes attributable to the experience of incarceration are related to educational attainment.

Crime, Incarceration, and the Labor Market, Young Adults and the Transition to Adulthood