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Do Cellmates Matter? A Causal Test of the Schools of Crime Hypothesis With Implications for Differential Association and Deterrence Theories

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 56 Issue: 1 Dated: 2018 Pages: 87-122
Date Published
36 pages
This study assessed the validity of the schools of crime hypothesis by estimating prison peer effects that result from differential cellmate associations in a male, first time release cohort from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

In the schools of crime hypothesis, social interactions between inmates are assumed to produce criminogenic rather than deterrent prison peer effects, thus implicating them in the persistence of high recidivism rates and null or criminogenic prison effects. The current study isolated causal prison peer effects in the presence of essential heterogeneity by using a semiparametric local instrumental variables estimation strategy. The results do not support the school of crime hypothesis. In the study sample, prison peer effects produced in interaction with more criminally experienced cellmates were always null or deterrent rather than criminogenic. Although the study did not explicitly test for the operant conditioning mechanisms theorized to underlie social influence in the context of differential association, the current study argues that, under the assumption that the differential association context relates positively to the direction of peer influence, the study of universally noncriminogenic estimates exclude direct reinforcement, vicarious reinforcement, and direct punishment as potential drivers of prison peer effects produced in interaction with more criminally experienced cellmates. Study results support the assertion that operant conditioning mechanisms connect differential association and deterrence theories. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2018