The Consequences of Legal Debt: Evidence from a Field Experiment
Last registered on July 17, 2018


Trial Information
General Information
The Consequences of Legal Debt: Evidence from a Field Experiment
Initial registration date
April 13, 2018
Last updated
July 17, 2018 11:25 AM EDT

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Primary Investigator
Harvard University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Harvard University
PI Affiliation
Columbia University
PI Affiliation
Harvard University
Additional Trial Information
On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
This trial investigates whether relief from legal financial obligations associated with misdemeanor criminal offenses leads to decreased criminal justice system involvement and improved labor market outcomes.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Goldstein, Rebecca et al. 2018. "The Consequences of Legal Debt: Evidence from a Field Experiment." AEA RCT Registry. July 17.
Experimental Details
The treatment subjects have their misdemeanor court fees and their District Attorney fees waived. If they are subject to probation supervision, their supervision fees are waived (they still must comply with all conditions of supervision). If the court orders them to attend classes, the fees for the classes are also waived (they still must attend the classes). The control subjects are sent a letter with general information.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Criminal justice system involvement and labor market outcomes.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Criminal justice system involvement is defined multiply by stays in jail, misdemeanor charges or convictions, and felony charges or convictions post-treatment. Labor market outcomes are defined both by employment status and wages post-treatment compared to pre-treatment.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Housing stability, detailed financial stability
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Housing stability is defined by whether or not the subject experienced an eviction post-treatment and whether they have a place to live that is not a homeless shelter or a homeless encampment. Detailed financial stability is a self-reported measure at one-year follow-up that the subjects do not have trouble meeting monthly expenses. We are also hoping to access some administrative measures of financial stability, such as whether or not the subjects have been sued by creditors.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
Subjects are consented into the study in either jail or court awaiting disposition for a misdemeanor offense. They are randomized into either treatment or control groups at the time of their conviction (if convicted; if acquitted they are no longer eligible for the study).
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization is done via Qualtrics. We do not require the algorithm to evenly spread subjects between the two groups, so we will likely not have exactly the same numbers off treatment and control subjects. The algorithm that Qualtrics uses to randomly select an option is the Mersenne Twister
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
300 treatment, 300 control
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
With 300 treatment and 300 control subjects, for a binary outcome (such as re-conviction), the minimum difference in rates to detect a significant difference at the 0.05 level with power 0.8 and a two-sided alternative is 16.17%.
IRB Name
Harvard University Committee on the Use of Human Subjects
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number