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Incremental Propensity Score Effects for Criminology: An Application Assessing the Relationship Between Homelessness, Behavioral Health Problems, and Recidivism

NCJ Number
Journal of Quanititative Criminology Volume: Online Dated: Feb 2024
Leah A. Jacobs; Alec McClean; Zach Branson; Edward Kennedy; Alex Fixler
Date Published
February 2024

In this paper, researchers examine the relationship between homelessness, behavioral health issues, and recidivism.


This study examines the relationship between homelessness and recidivism among people on probation with and without behavioral health problems. Minding limitations related to observational data and generalizability, this study suggests large reductions in homelessness lead to significant reductions in rearrest rates. Efforts to reduce recidivism should include interventions that make homelessness less likely, but notable differences in recidivism will require these interventions be sizable. Meanwhile, efforts to establish recidivism risk factors should consider alternative effects, like IPS effects, to maximize validity and reduce bias. The study also illustrates a new way to summarize the effect of an exposure on an outcome, the Incremental Propensity Score (IPS) effect, which avoids pitfalls of other approaches commonly used in criminology. The authors assessed the impact of homelessness at probation start on rearrest within one year among a cohort of people on probation (n = 2453) and estimated IPS effects, considering general and crime-specific recidivism if subjects were more or less likely to be unhoused, and assessed effect variation by behavioral health problem status. The authors used a doubly robust machine learning estimator to flexibly but efficiently estimate effects. A substantial intervention—reducing homelessness by roughly 65%—corresponded to a 9% reduction in the estimated average rate of recidivism (p < 0.05). Milder interventions showed smaller, non-significant effect sizes. Stratifying by behavioral health problem and rearrest type led to similar results without statistical significance. (Published Abstract Provided)