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Lessons from Hurricane Katrina: A Natural Experiment of the Effect of Residential Change on Recidivism

July 2008

David S. Kirk

Download 'working_paper08-10.pdf'.


In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana Gulf Coast, damaging many of the neighborhoods where ex-prisoners typically reside. Given the residential destruction resulting from Hurricane Katrina, it is unclear whether the resulting geographic displacement of returning prisoners has had any adverse, or even beneficial, impact on the likelihood of recidivism. It may be the case that Hurricane Katrina induced turning points in the life course of former prisoners by separating these individuals from the criminal peers and the criminal temptations that contributed to their criminality in the past. Yet estimating the causal impact of residential migration on the likelihood of recidivism is complicated by the issue of selection bias—the possibility that some unmeasured characteristic of prisoners influences both where they live and their criminal behavior, and may therefore account for any relation between residential change and recidivism. In this study, I utilize a natural experiment as a means of addressing the selection issue, and seek to establish whether the migration of ex-prisoners away from their former place of residence will lead to lower levels of recidivism. Findings suggest that moving away from former geographic areas substantially lowers an ex-prisoner’s likelihood of re-incarceration.

Crime, Incarceration, and the Labor Market, Housing, Poverty Trends and Measurement