An agent-based epidemiological model of incarceration

Kristian Lum , Virginia Tech-Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
We build an agent-based model of incarceration based on the SIS model of infectious disease propagation. Our central hypothesis is that the observed racial disparities in incarceration rates between Black and White Americans can be explained as the result of differential sentencing between the two demographic groups. We demonstrate that if incarceration can be spread through a social influence network, then even relatively small differences in sentencing can result in the large disparities in incarceration rates. Controlling for effects of transmissibility, susceptibility, and influence network structure, our model reproduces the observed large disparities in incarceration rates given the differences in sentence lengths for White and Black drug offenders in the United States without extensive parameter tuning. We further establish the suitability of the SIS model as applied to incarceration, as the observed structural patterns of recidivism are an emergent property of the model. In fact, our model shows a remarkably close correspondence with California incarceration data, without requiring any parameter tuning. This work advances efforts to combine the theories and methods of epidemiology and criminology.
March, 18 2014 | - | 230E Gross Hall

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