Justice Study

Last registered on September 19, 2022

Pre-Trial

Trial Information

General Information

Title
Justice Study
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0008844
Initial registration date
September 13, 2022

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
September 19, 2022, 4:13 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Locations

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Primary Investigator

Affiliation
University of Zurich

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
ETH Zurich
PI Affiliation
Harvard Law School
PI Affiliation
Harvard Law School
PI Affiliation
University of Zurich

Additional Trial Information

Status
On going
Start date
2022-08-18
End date
2028-08-18
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Abstract
Incarcerated populations have skyrocketed in most parts of the world over the past decades. How does incarceration affect people’s lives? Identifying the causal effects of incarceration has proven challenging because of the many unobservable external factors (such as pre-existing differences in personality and criminal attitudes) that threaten the validity of a comparison between incarcerated and non-incarcerated people.
We study the psychological, social, economic, and health consequences of short-term incarceration using a randomized controlled trial (RCT). We build on the US cash bail system, which in theory provides a financial incentive for court appearance but in practice may impose a high burden for subjects with lower socio-economic status. The study offers recently arrested people who were assigned bail they most likely can’t pay themselves, and who want to participate in the study, a 50-50 chance of being placed in an “Extra-Chance” group or a “Regular Pre-Trial” group. For people randomized to the Extra-Chance group, a local non-profit organization posts their bail, so that they can be free from jail while they await their trial. For people randomized to the Regular Pre-Trial group, the local non-profit does not post their bail, but participants can still achieve release if they can post their own bail, if someone else posts their bail for them, or if the judge removes their bail. In other words, people in the Regular Pre-Trial group experience the criminal justice system as though there were no study. We will use administrative data sources and administer surveys to study the impact of being released from pre-trial detention on participants' lives.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Citation
Beerli, Andreas et al. 2022. "Justice Study." AEA RCT Registry. September 19. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.8844-1.0
Experimental Details

Interventions

Intervention(s)
Non-violent arrestees (i) who meet eligibility criteria and (ii) who provide informed consent will enter a lottery in which they will be randomized to either an “Extra Chance” group or a “Regular Pre-Trial" group. Two pre-existing, non-profit organizations will conduct bail fund operations using study-provided funds. The non-profits will post bail for participants randomized to the Extra Chance group. For people randomized to the Regular Pre-Trial group, the local non-profit does not post their bail, but participants may bail themselves out if they are able. Likely, many in the Regular Pre-Trial group will remain incarcerated until disposition of their cases, just as they would have been had there been no study. The local non-profits will provide assistance to link all participants to social services.
Intervention Start Date
2022-08-18
Intervention End Date
2025-08-18

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
The main outcomes of interests are:
• Criminal behavior (pre- and post-trial)
• Economic status (employment, earnings, social assistance, financial well-being)
• Housing security
• Mental and physical health
• Cognitive bandwidth and economic decision making (risk and time preferences)
• Family situation and social relationships
• Procedural outcomes (in particular, guilty pleas, sentencing)
• Trust in institutions
• Political participation
• Education
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary outcomes are:
• Procedural fairness perceptions
• Victimization
• Criminal identity, peers, and attitudes
• Self-evaluations (self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control)
• Stigmatization perceptions
• Beliefs about the criminal justice system (probability of arrest, pains of imprisonment)
• Beliefs about procedural outcomes (e.g., perceived strength of case)
• Health care coverage
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
Eligibility and Consent:
Eligibility for the study will be determined based on two sets of criteria. The first set of criteria are meant to establish a population of participants that are non-violent and able to meaningfully participate in the study. The second set of criteria focus on restricting the population to individuals for whom bail is likely the only thing standing between them and freedom.

Once a potential participant is determined to be eligible as described above, an employee of the non-profit partners will request that county jail personnel to inform the potential participants that there is a researcher interested in speaking with them about a possible research opportunity. These staff will not explain the study or conduct any part of the recruitment or consent process. If the individuals are interested in hearing from the researcher (non-profit staff) about the research opportunity, the jail staff will escort the individual to the private space for the consent conversation.
The non-profit employee will, in a private space, describe the study to the arrestee, answer questions, and obtain written consent for study participation from the arrestee. Further, the non-profit employee will obtain signatures on forms authorizing the research team to collect administrative information from a variety of sources, such as state departments of labor and education, needed to study outcome variables. After the site-based researcher obtains consent, the participants complete a baseline survey. Subsequently, the randomization process will take place.

Randomization:
Participants will be randomized to either the Extra Chance group or the Regular Pre-Trial group with a 50-50 chance. The non-profit partners will use study-provided funds to bail out individuals randomized to the Extra Chance Group.

For people randomized to the Regular Pre-Trial group, the local non-profit does not post their bail, but participants may achieve release through otherwise available means if they are able. Likely, many in the Regular Pre-Trial group will remain incarcerated until disposition of their cases, just as they would have been had there been no study.

Outcome Data Collection:
The research team will collect outcome data from administrative data sources and surveys. The study consent form contains language to authorize the retrieval of the administrative data for a time period prior to enrollment and for a follow-up period.

The first survey will be administered at intake. Subsequently, surveys will occur according to a prespecified schedule. Surveys will continue for up to two years after randomization.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
The randomization process will be conducted via computer. The randomization outcome is displayed for each participant at the end of the baseline Qualtrics survey. For the randomization we create batches of 20 randomization outcomes for each of the three sites, consisting of 10 Extra Chance Group and 10 Regular Pre-trial Group (i.e., block randomization by time and site). These outcomes are assigned to consenting participants who complete the baseline survey in randomized order.
Randomization Unit
Individuals
Was the treatment clustered?
No

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
none
Sample size: planned number of observations
We aim to enroll 2,000 participants.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Planned number of participants in Extra-Chance group: 1,000

Planned number of participants in Regular Pre-Trial group: 1’000
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Supporting Documents and Materials

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IRB

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Harvard University-Area, Committee on the Use of Human Subjects
IRB Approval Date
2022-06-06
IRB Approval Number
IRB21-1281
IRB Name
OEC Human Subjects Committee, Faculty of Business, Economics and Informatics, University of Zurich
IRB Approval Date
2022-08-10
IRB Approval Number
OEC IRB # 2022-064