14th journées Louis-André Gérard-Varet

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Incarceration length and recidivism : qualitative results from a collective pardon in France
Benjamin Monnery

Last modified: 2015-03-14


This paper exploits the French collective pardon of July 1996 to investigate how incarceration length alters criminal behavior after release. Eligibility to the pardon (and the amount of sentence reductions granted) dramatically depended on whether prisoners were still in prison on the date of the pardon, and for how long. This setting provides large, plausibly exogenous variation in the overall amount of sentence reductions obtained by French prisoners. My IV estimates show no significant causal effect of sentence reductions on overall probability of recidivism in the five years following prison. However, this overall null relationship hides a large detrimental effect on property crime (+1.3 pp per day of sentence reduction), probably driven by a surprise effect (prisoners released unexpectedly early are less pepared for successful reentry) ; on the other hand, other types of offenses are not responsive to changes in incarceration length. Using new sentences as a proxy for severity, it seems that property crime are less serious offenses. The paper also explores the practical implementation of the 1996 pardon in France, and discusses the implications for both public policy and judicial practice.


economics of crime ; prison; recidivism