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Assessing the Impact of Restrictive Housing on Inmate Post-Release Criminal Behavior

Abstract

The placement of inmates in restrictive housing (RH) units has become a staple of corrections policy in recent years. Despite its increased use, research on its continued effects is relatively rare when compared to the breadth of general correctional research. This study contributes to the literature by examining the effect placement in restrictive housing has on offender recidivism post prison release. Subjects include approximately 4000 inmates matched through Propensity Score Matching (PSM) techniques and followed 36 months post-release. The findings reveal that inmates placed in restrictive housing had elevated levels of recidivism and proportionally more new commitments for all crime types than those not placed in restrictive housing. Restrictive housing subjects also displayed shorter time to rearrest than non-RH individuals. The theoretical and policy implications of these findings are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In New Jersey, Protective Custody is classified separately than other types of restrictive housing and were therefore not counted in the sample of RH.

  2. 2.

    Of course, since all criminal offenses are not reported to the police or come to their attention, we cannot measure the dark figure of crime (i.e., those incidents that do not come to the attention of criminal justice actors), or offenders who come into contact with criminal justice actors but are not processed (a record is not created) due to the use of the criminal justice actor’s discretion.

  3. 3.

    In 2015, the New Jersey Department of Corrections restructured their restrictive housing policies to be in compliance with the recommendations set forth by ASCA. These changes allow inmates subjected to AS to receive additional recreational time, phone utilization, treatment participation, and congregate time.

  4. 4.

    It should be noted that in recent years the NJDOC has eradicated Level 3. However, there were three levels during the timeframe of this sample.

  5. 5.

    Community supervision violations are different than technical parole violations, in that community supervision violations encompass more violation offenses than parole violations. While technical parole violations are limited to violations of New Jersey State Parole Board conditions only, community supervision violations include technical parole violations as well as Megan’s Law violations and probation or intensive supervision violations, for example.

  6. 6.

    A complaint regarding one-to-one nearest neighbor matching is that it can lead to reduced power due to the loss of a number of observations (Stuart, 2010). However, Stuart (2010) addresses these concerns by noting that in a two-sample analysis, if the treated group stays of a similar size and only the untreated group decreases, the overall power may not be reduced (Ho et al., 2007). Additionally, it is suggested that power increases when groups are similar because of the higher precision obtained when comparing groups that are more similar to one another than dissimilar (Snedecor & Cochran, 1980; see Stuart, 2010 for more information). As the final sample size of the treated group did not differ from the sample used during the respecification of the logit model, the power of the current analyses likely remains intact.

  7. 7.

    The following formula was used to calculate the standardized absolute bias. See Duwe and Clark (2014).

    $$ \mathrm{Bias}=\frac{100\left({\overline{\mathrm{x}}}_{\mathrm{t}}-{\overline{\mathrm{x}}}_{\mathrm{c}}\right)}{\sqrt{\left(\frac{s_t^2+{s}_c^2}{2}\right)}} $$
  8. 8.

    Only inmates who were placed on parole supervision following release were included in the analysis for reincarceration for a technical parole violation.

  9. 9.

    There were almost no escape attempts or completed escapes within the sample of inmates. Therefore, controlling for this would add little value.

  10. 10.

    Prior AS studies also difficulty obtaining these variables. Of the three other studies in the area, only Lovell and colleagues Lovell et al. (2007) were able to control for mental illness. Similarly, only Butler and colleagues (Butler et al., 2017) were able to control for variables such as gang membership.

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Correspondence to Kristen M. Zgoba.

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Zgoba, K.M., Pizarro, J.M. & Salerno, L.M. Assessing the Impact of Restrictive Housing on Inmate Post-Release Criminal Behavior. Am J Crim Just 45, 102–125 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-019-09496-2

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Keywords

  • Restrictive housing
  • Administrative segregation
  • Disciplinary segregation
  • Supermax
  • Recidivism
  • Propensity score matching