How Offensive

Kevin Lewis

January 20, 2023

High-Frequency Location Data Shows That Race Affects the Likelihood of Being Stopped and Fined for Speeding
Pradhi Aggarwal et al.
University of Chicago Working Paper, December 2022 


Prior research finds that, conditional on an encounter, minority civilians are more likely to be punished by police than white civilians. An open question is whether the actual encounter is related to race. Using high-frequency location data of rideshare drivers operating on the Lyft platform in Florida, we estimate the effect of driver race on traffic stops and fines for speeding. Estimates obtained across traditional and machine learning approaches show that, relative to a white driver traveling the same speed, minorities are 24 to 33 percent more likely to be stopped for speeding and pay 23 to 34 percent more in fines. We find no evidence that these estimates can be explained by racial differences in accident and re-offense rates. Our approach provides key insights into the total effect of civilian race on outcomes of interest and highlights the methodological import of combining high-frequency data and machine learning to evaluate critical social issues.

Predicting and Preventing Gun Violence: An Experimental Evaluation of READI Chicago
Monica Bhatt et al.
NBER Working Paper, January 2023 


Gun violence is the most pressing public safety problem in American cities. We report results from a randomized controlled trial (N=2,456) of a community-researcher partnership -- the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI Chicago) -- which provided 18 months of a supported job alongside cognitive behavioral therapy and other social supports. Algorithmic and human referral methods identified men with strikingly high scope for gun violence reduction: for every 100 people in the control group, there were over 11 shooting and homicide victimizations during the 20-month outcome period. Take-up and retention rates were comparable to programs for people facing far lower mortality risk. There is no statistically significant change in an index combining three measures of serious violence, the study's primary outcome. But one component, shooting and homicide arrests, shows a suggestive decline of 64 percent (p=0.15). Because shootings are so costly, READI generates social savings between $174,000 and $858,000 per participant, implying a benefit-cost ratio between 3.8 and 18.8 to 1. Moreover, participants referred by outreach workers -- a pre-specified subgroup -- show enormous declines in both arrests and victimizations for shootings and homicides that remain statistically significant even after multiple testing adjustments. These declines are concentrated among outreach referrals with high predicted risk, suggesting that human and algorithmic targeting may work better together.

Effects of comprehensive background check policies on firearm fatalities in four states
Rose Kagawa et al.
American Journal of Epidemiology, forthcoming


Studies of the effectiveness of comprehensive background check (CBC) policies in multiple states have yielded null results. These prior studies focused on CBC laws adopted in the 1990s, when record keeping was far less complete. We estimate the effect of the implementation of CBC policies on state-level firearm homicide and suicide rates in states implementing CBC policies from 2013-2015 (Colorado, Delaware, Oregon, Washington). We compare age-adjusted firearm homicide and suicide rates measured annually from 15 years prior to policy implementation until 2019 in each treated state to rates in control groups constructed using the synthetic control group method. Differences in firearm homicide rates for Colorado, Oregon, and Washington were all small (0.09 to 0.18 per 100,000) and not well distinguished from natural variation. Oregon had on average 0.80 per 100,000 fewer firearm suicides per year than did synthetic Oregon. However, these results were inconsistent across modeling approaches. Our models produced poor fit for Delaware. Coupled with previous null results from Indiana, California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, the current results suggest extending background check requirements to private transfers alone and implementing as is currently done is not sufficient to achieve significant state-level reductions in firearm fatalities.

Are Supervision Violations Filling Prisons? The Role of Probation, Parole, and New Offenses in Driving Mass Incarceration
Michelle Phelps, H.N. Dickens & De Andre’ Beadle
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, January 2023 


Advocates for reform have highlighted violations of probation and parole conditions as a key driver of mass incarceration. As a 2019 Council of State Governments report declared, supervision violations are “filling prisons and burdening budgets.” Yet few scholarly accounts estimate the precise role of technical violations in fueling prison populations during the prison boom. Using national surveys of state prison populations from 1979 to 2016, the authors document that most incarcerated persons are behind bars for new sentences. On average, just one in eight people in state prisons on any given day has been locked up for a technical violation of community supervision alone. Thus, strategies to substantially reduce prison populations must look to new criminal offenses and sentence length.

Does Revenue-motivated Policing Alter Who Receives Traffic Citations? Evidence from Driver Race and Income in Indiana
Siân Mughan & Akheil Singla
Public Administration Review, forthcoming 


Revenue-motivated policing is a common explanation for law enforcement behavior. This means in times of fiscal stress police alter their behavior to increase the financial returns to their actions. But does variation in the institutional features of local governments lead to variation in law enforcement behavior? Using a plausibly exogenous measure of revenue need, this research explores how fiscal institutions that determine a local government's ability to retain ticketing revenue interact with revenue need to affect the number of tickets issued and the type of driver ticketed. There are four major findings. First, revenue-motivated policing only occurs when local governments retain the revenues from ticketing. Second, in the context of revenue retention and high revenue need, wealthier drivers are more likely to receive tickets. Third, these effects are particularly pronounced among White drivers. Finally, revenue-motives extend beyond law enforcement by altering judicial decision making.

Import substitution in illicit methamphetamine markets
Leandro Freylejer & Scott Orr
Journal of International Economics, January 2023 


The United States passed a series of precursor control laws between 2004 and 2006 which aimed to decrease illicit methamphetamine production by limiting access to key inputs. We provide evidence that this caused suppliers to substitute towards Mexican-produced methamphetamine. Using a difference-in-differences identification strategy, we show that the treatment effect of precursor controls on lab seizures was largest in the middle of the United States. This is consistent with substitution towards imports, where differences in each region's ability to substitute towards imports generates heterogeneous effects on domestic production. To quantify the effect of precursor controls on domestic costs and imports, we estimate a model of illicit methamphetamine production using data on lab seizures and methamphetamine prices. We find that precursor controls increased domestic costs by 114%–190%. Substitution towards Mexican-produced methamphetamine decreased the effect of precursor controls on methamphetamine prices by 62%–83%, relative to a counterfactual world without import substitution.

A Within-Person Test of the Impact of Extended Solitary Confinement on Mental Health Functioning and Service Use
Sonja Siennick et al.
Criminal Justice and Behavior, forthcoming 


There is conflicting evidence on whether people, particularly those with preexisting mental health problems, have worse mental health during and after extended solitary confinement (SC) stays. Using administrative data on 843 men, we examined within-person changes in mental health functioning and service use surrounding long-term stays in SC in Florida correctional facilities. During these stays, service use increased, psychological functioning improved, and mental health crises declined. The former two associations persisted during step-down placements in lower levels of restrictive housing and during the month following restrictive housing stays. The same associations were observed among men with and without serious mental illnesses, though they were more muted among the former group. The increased provision of treatment might prevent mental health problems from developing or worsening among those held in long-term SC and might even improve psychological functioning relative to when the same people are in general population housing.

Disorder in the eye of the beholder: Black and White residents’ perceptions of disorder on high-crime street segments
Joshua Hinkle et al.
Criminology & Public Policy, forthcoming 


Although broken windows theory has had strong influence on policy and practice in policing, there are still many questions and debates about the nature of disorder itself and, particularly, how people perceive and define it. The current study aims to examine whether Black and White residents living on the same street segments in Baltimore City, Maryland perceive similar levels of social and physical disorder. We find strong and significant differences between Black and White residents after controlling for key sociodemographic variables and street-level covariates.

The Local Economic Impacts of Prisons
Janjala Chirakijja
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming 


I examine the economic consequences of prisons on local communities using two complementary approaches. The first uses prison openings during the 1990s across the US and the second exploits the results of the prison site-selection competitions in Texas. Prisons bring substantial and persistent gains in public employment. However, additional jobs at the prisons generate little spillover effects on private sector employment and fail to provide a major boost to local economic activity – overall resulting in approximately a one-for-one increase in local employment. Neighborhoods closest to prisons also experience declines in housing values and demographic shifts towards low-socioeconomic status households.

Is Work Associated With More or Less Criminal Involvement in the Short-Term? New Evidence of the Former Among a Justice-Involved Sample?
Paul Bellair et al.
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming 


We inquire whether commitment to employment has an immediate suppressive effect (i.e., in the next month) on street crime. Analysis of retrospective monthly calendar data drawn from a random sample of prisoners reveals that it does not. In contrast, paycheck work co-occurs with income generating crime in almost half of the months in which participants are employed. Second, paycheck work is associated with an increase in the likelihood of subsequent drug selling and bears no association with violent or property offenses. Third, job commitment is associated with greater odds of drug selling. Finally, hours worked does exert an immediate suppressive effect on drug selling and violent crime, but the effects are relatively small and do not challenge our main conclusions.

Simulated automated facial recognition systems as decision-aids in forensic face matching tasks
Daniel Carragher & Peter Hancock
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming 


Automated Facial Recognition Systems (AFRS) are used by governments, law enforcement agencies, and private businesses to verify the identity of individuals. Although previous research has compared the performance of AFRS and humans on tasks of one-to-one face matching, little is known about how effectively human operators can use these AFRS as decision-aids. Our aim was to investigate how the prior decision from an AFRS affects human performance on a face matching task, and to establish whether human oversight of AFRS decisions can lead to collaborative performance gains for the human-algorithm team. The identification decisions from our simulated AFRS were informed by the performance of a real, state-of-the-art, Deep Convolutional Neural Network (DCNN) AFRS on the same task. Across five pre-registered experiments, human operators used the decisions from highly accurate AFRS (> 90%) to improve their own face matching performance compared with baseline (sensitivity gain: Cohen’s d = 0.71–1.28; overall accuracy gain: d = 0.73–1.46). Yet, despite this improvement, AFRS-aided human performance consistently failed to reach the level that the AFRS achieved alone. Even when the AFRS erred only on the face pairs with the highest human accuracy (> 89%), participants often failed to correct the system’s errors, while also overruling many correct decisions, raising questions about the conditions under which human oversight might enhance AFRS operation. Overall, these data demonstrate that the human operator is a limiting factor in this simple model of human-AFRS teaming. These findings have implications for the “human-in-the-loop” approach to AFRS oversight in forensic face matching scenarios.

Ticketing and Turnout: The Participatory Consequences of Low-Level Police Contact
Jonathan Ben-Menachem & Kevin Morris
American Political Science Review, forthcoming 


The American criminal legal system is an important site of political socialization: scholars have shown that criminal legal contact reduces turnout and that criminalization pushes people away from public institutions more broadly. Despite this burgeoning literature, few analyses directly investigate the causal effect of lower-level police contact on voter turnout. To do so, we leverage individual-level administrative ticketing data from Hillsborough County, Florida. We show that traffic stops materially decrease participation for Black and non-Black residents alike, and we also find temporal variation in the effect for Black voters. Although stops reduce turnout more for Black voters in the short term, they are less demobilizing over a longer time horizon. Although even low-level contacts with the police can reduce political participation across the board, our results point to a unique process of political socialization vis-à-vis the carceral state for Black Americans.


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