The consequences of tougher sentencing and the prison boom: Recidivism, human capital accumulation, and intergenerational effects

Project Summary:

The authors will use a natural experiment. This project examines the effect of incarceration on various outcomes, including recidivism, human capital accumulation, employment, and earnings. The authors will do so using a natural experiment leveraging variation in sentencing outcomes due to differences between randomly assigned judges. Taking advantage of the considerable administrative data capacities of University of Chicago’s Chapin Hall, the authors aim to make novel contributions extending well beyond the current literature, which largely relies on survey data. This research will address critical questions such as the flat lining of male labor force participation, and the importance of the prison boom in driving the black/white wage gap.


Armin Rick is an assistant professor of economics at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. He specializes in applied microeconomic theory with a focus on the economics of information and communication. His recent research centers on the role of communication error and transparency of economic actions in situations with asymmetric information. His work shows that appropriately limiting transparency can often improve the economic efficiency of communication mechanisms, in particular with respect to the equilibrium tradeoff between information transmission and communication costs. He is similarly interested in labor market inequality and the economics of crime and human capital accumulation. In recent work, he and his collaborators assess the effect of the boom in U.S. prison populations on measures of labor market inequality and the extent to which this boom can be attributed to changes in the punitiveness of the criminal justice system.

Rick holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago as well as master’s degrees in economics from the University of Chicago and the University of Mannheim (Germany).

Selected Publications