Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 741–773 | Cite as

A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation of the Impact of Public Assistance on Prisoner Recidivism

  • Jeremy LuallenEmail author
  • Jared Edgerton
  • Deirdre Rabideau
Original Paper



The Welfare Act of 1996 banned welfare and food stamp eligibility for felony drug offenders and gave states the ability to modify their use of the law. Today, many states are revisiting their use of this ban, searching for ways to decrease the size of their prison populations; however, there are no empirical assessments of how this ban has affected prison populations and recidivism among drug offenders. Moreover, there are no causal investigations whatsoever to demonstrate whether welfare or food stamp benefits impact recidivism at all.


This paper provides the first empirical examination of the causal relationship between recidivism and welfare and food stamp benefits


Using a survival-based estimation, we estimated the impact of benefits on the recidivism of drug-offending populations using data from the National Corrections Reporting Program. We modeled this impact using a difference-in-difference estimator within a regression discontinuity framework.


Results of this analysis are conclusive; we find no evidence that drug offending populations as a group were adversely or positively impacted by the ban overall. Results apply to both male and female populations and are robust to several sensitivity tests. Results also suggest the possibility that impacts significantly vary over time-at-risk, despite a zero net effect.


Overall, we show that the initial passage of the drug felony ban had no measurable large-scale impacts on recidivism among male or female drug offenders. We conclude that the state initiatives to remove or modify the ban, regardless of whether they improve lives of individual offenders, will likely have no appreciable impact on prison systems.


Welfare Food stamps Drugs Ban Prison Recidivism 



This work was supported by Grant Nos. 2010-BJ-CX-K067 and 2015-R2-CX-K135 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. For this work, Thomas Rich served as Project Director along with Principal Investigators William Rhodes and Gerry Gaes. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the US Department of Justice. The authors are responsible for any errors in the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy Luallen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jared Edgerton
    • 1
  • Deirdre Rabideau
    • 1
  1. 1.Abt AssociatesCambridgeUSA

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