DP17070 Recidivism and Neighborhood Institutions: Evidence from the Rise of the Evangelical Church in Chile
Rehabilitating convicted criminals is challenging; indeed, an important share of them return to prison in the two years following their release. Thus, finding effective ways of encouraging desistance from crime has become an important policy goal to reduce crime and incarceration rates. This paper uses rich administrative data from Chile to provide causal evidence that the local institutions of the neighborhood to which inmates return after prison matter. Specifically, we show that the opening of an Evangelical church reduces twelve-month reincarceration rates among property crime offenders by 11 percentage points. This effect represents a drop of 18% in the probability of returning to prison for this group of individuals. We discuss three classes of mechanisms---social support, promotion of Evangelical values, and social monitoring---and provide evidence consistent with the first of them. Our results suggest that interventions that give recently released inmates access to local support networks could play an important role in encouraging crime desistance.