Online Exclusive: Military service may increase rate of incarceration for violent crime

This Friday, Portland State will host University of Oregon’s Assistant Professor of Economics Jason Lindo in the first of four economics seminars scheduled for fall term.

This Friday, Portland State will host University of Oregon’s Assistant Professor of Economics Jason Lindo in the first of four economics seminars scheduled for fall term.

Lindo’s lecture is based on a paper titled “Drawn Into Violence: Evidence on ‘What Makes a Criminal’ from the Vietnam Draft Lotteries,” which examines the possibility of a correlation between military service and incarceration. The use of statistical information from the Vietnam War draft lotteries is compelling because results are based on a pool of randomly selected young men; in any recent war, soldiers are voluntary participants.

Also, the Vietnam era marks the beginning of a very important shift in American military training. According to “Drawn Into Violence,” in the late 1960s the military began to address an apparent “reluctance to fire at enemy combatants” by U.S. soldiers in WWII; the resulting change in military training was to provide increasingly realistic training scenarios. In a current example of this practice, cadets this summer were provided with “actual Iraqi nationals” who acted as role players to facilitate realism in training, according to the U.S. Army’s website.

Though academic in nature, this research does offer two “big picture” conclusions that are important for a public audience to consider.

“First,” Lindo said, “‘nuture’matters when it comes to violent criminal behavior.” According to the research data, draft eligibility increases incarceration rates for violent crimes by 14 to 19 percent among whites.

Second, “the long-term effects of military service are profound,” Lindo said. If military service or training does, in fact, increase the likelihood of incarceration for violent crime, military action costs taxpayers much more than is accounted for in the defense budget. “Drawn Into Violence” estimates that a troop increase of 10,000 results in a $30.5 million hidden cost as a consequence of increased violent crime and imprisonment. If Lindo’s figures are correct, President Obama’s recent commitment of 30,000 additional troops to the war effort in Afghanistan will result in approximately $90 million of unaccounted-for future costs.

It should be noted that, in Lindo’s research, incarceration rates can only be linked to draft eligibility—that is, a man with a birth date which was called to service may have defected or may not have qualified to serve but could still have committed a crime for which he was prosecuted and therefore contributed to this research’s statistical data.

There are, potentially, several more problems with data accuracy. For example, there may be fewer veterans in prison (and therefore less evidence in favor of a military service-incarceration correlation) due to their increased mortality rate. Judges, juries and law enforcement officers may show leniency in veteran prosecution.

Lindo will address potential sources of error in data during his presentation.

“I have long been interested in how ‘early life events’ affect later life outcomes,” Lindo said. Other research conducted by Lindo includes an examination of the effects of academic probation on college students, wherein Lindo concluded that male students who had performed well in high school were more likely to drop out of college as a result of probation.

The seminar series is organized by Mary King, a PSU economics professor. According to King, the point of the economics seminars is to bring professional economists to campus on a regular basis; ideally, the guest lecturers featured in the series can together offer a wide range of theoretical and methodological approaches on a broad spectrum of topics. And while the department tries to bring both junior and senior economists to campus, the junior scholars can be particularly valuable “because they are often at the cutting edge of the discipline and it’s great for all of us to hear about their work,” King said.

Lindo, who earned his doctorate in economics from UC Davis in 2009, co-wrote the paper with Charles Stoecker, a current Ph.D. candidate in economics at Davis.

The lecture will be on Friday, Oct. 8, at 3 p.m. in Cramer Hall room 325. This event is free and open to the public.