Shadow Costs: The Effect of Economic and Informational Inequality on Court-Ordered Compliance

Awarded Scholars:
Bryan Sykes, University of California, Irvine
Project Date:
Oct 2020
Award Amount:

Jurisdictions seeking to reform their criminal justice policies around fines and fees often fail to understand the financial exposure of criminal defendants who plea bargain or are found guilty of minor and serious infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies. Probationers and parolees must often participate in state-ordered rehabilitation and reentry programs that require economic, automotive, and informational resources that can inhibit their ability to enroll, attend, and/or complete them. These “shadow” costs may result in significant legal consequences for those failing to complete programs. Social demographer Bryan Sykes will examine how lack of economic resources and information about these shadow costs affect compliance with state-ordered treatment and reentry programs by conducting a field experiment to evaluate three hypotheses: 1) the removal of economic barriers (through prepayment for required courses) will increase participant compliance in mandated rehabilitation treatment programs; 2) the funding of transportation, childcare or the provision of wage subsidies will increase program compliance; and 3) the provision of information will increase compliance. About 140 study participants will be randomly sampled from court calendars and parole hearing listings from the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Sykes will randomly assign 75 and 65 participants to the treatment and control groups, respectively. Sykes will measure the effects of each intervention—paying for courses, childcare, and transportation, as well as wage subsidies and providing information—in order to determine the effectiveness of each of his three hypotheses.


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