Leah Jacobs and Jennifer L. Skeem's study on this topic is forthcoming in American Journal of Community Psychology and available here.

Pre-print available behind paywall here.



Justice-involved people vary substantially in their risk of reoffending. To date, recidivism prediction and prevention efforts have largely focused on individual-level factors like antisocial traits. Although a growing body of research has examined the role of residential contexts in predicting reoffending, results have been equivocal. One reason for mixed results may be that an individual’s susceptibility to contextual influence depends upon his or her accumulated risk of reoffending. Based on a sample of 2,218 people on probation in San Francisco, California, this study draws on observational and secondary data to test the hypothesis that individual risk moderates the effect of neighborhood factors on recidivism. Results from survival analyses indicate that individual risk interacts with neighborhood concentrated disadvantage and disorder—these factors increase recidivism among people relatively low in individual risk, but not those at higher risk. This is consistent with the disadvantage saturation perspective, raising the possibility that some people classified as low risk might not recidivate but for placement in disadvantaged and disorderly neighborhoods. Ultimately, residential contexts “matter” for lower risk people and may be useful to consider in efforts to prevent recidivism.



Keywords: risk assessment, recidivism, disadvantage saturation, neighborhood effects, disadvantage, disorder

In their article "Lost in Translation: 'Risks' 'Needs,' and 'Evidence' in Implementing the First Step Act" Jennifer Skeem and John Monahan anaylze two problematic issues in the manner in which the First Step Act, a federal prison reform bill, is being implemented. 

Professor Skeem’s newest paper — “The limits of human predictions of recidivism” — was published Feb. 14, 2020, in Science Advances. With her Stanford-based coauthors, Skeem presented the research on Feb. 13 in a news briefing at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle, Wash.  For details, see the Berkeley News article "Algorithms are better than people in predicting recidivism, study says."

Probation has become a cornerstone of efforts to reduce mass incarceration. Although understudied, specialty probation could improve outcomes for the overrepresented group of people with mental illness. An article by Jennifer Skeem, Ph.D., Sarah Manchak, Ph.D., and Lina Montoya B.S. was recently accepted for publication in JAMA Psychiatry. Study findings indicate that well-implemented specialty probation for justice-involved people with mental illness appear effective in reducing general recidivism, compared to traditional probation. Reform efforts for people with mental illness could leverage probation—a ubiquitous and revitalized node of the justice system. 

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) awarded John Petrila (Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute) and Jennifer Skeem (UC Berkeley) a grant to evaluate a system-wide transformation in Dallas County, Texas that will provide targeted services to justice-involved people with mental illness.  The focus is on “super-utilizers” who cycle frequently among emergency rooms, hospitals, and jails—with a staggering human and fiscal toll.

Jennifer Skeem, a Professor at UC Berkeley, and Christopher Lowenkamp, a criminal justice researcher with the Administrative Office of the U.S.