The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty

The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty

Robert H. DeFina

Villanova University


Lance Hannon

Villanova University – College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

February 23, 2009

Crime and Delinquency, February 12, 2009


During the past thirty years, U.S. poverty has remained high despite overall economic growth. At the same time, incarceration rates have risen by more than three hundred percent, a phenomenon that many analysts have referred to as mass incarceration. This paper explores whether the mass incarceration of the past few decades might have impeded progress toward poverty reduction. Relying on a state-level panel spanning the years 1980 to 2004, the study measures the impact of incarceration on three different poverty indexes. Estimates are generated using instrumental variable techniques to account for possible simultaneity between incarceration and poverty. The evidence indicates that growing incarceration has significantly increased poverty, regardless of which index is used to gauge poverty. Indeed, the official poverty rate would have fallen considerably during the period had it not been for mass incarceration.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

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