Dissertation Research

The Effect of Anti-Gang Laws on Crime and Social Control” (Job Market Paper)

All fifty U.S. states have enacted anti-gang legislation throughout the last five decades as part of these programs. A few studies have evaluated policy interventions in concrete jurisdictions, but a national study exploring the effects of these laws in the U.S. has not been done yet. In this paper, I explore the effect of six different types of anti-gang legislation on ten crime rates, arrest rates, and incarceration rates. I estimate the impact of passing comprehensive anti-gang acts, anti-gang curfew laws, anti-gang participation laws, anti-gang recruitment laws, anti-gang intimidation laws, and anti-gang criminal intelligence laws. The results show no robust effect of anti-gang laws on crime. At the same time, these laws are associated with higher arrest rates, admissions to prison, and an expansion of social control. 

“On the Tension Between Due Process Protection and public Safety: The Case of an Extensive Procedural Reform” (Preparing Resubmission)

We exploit the arguably exogenous staggered implementation of an extensive criminal procedural reform in Colombia between 2005 and 2008 to assess its intended and unintended consequences. While the reform had explicit objectives, such as guaranteeing due process protection of the accused; reducing the use of pretrial detention; making the processing of criminal cases more efficient; reducing procedural times; and improving the mechanisms for early termination of criminal processes, the reform also had negative unintended consequences on arrest, clearance rates and crime. Our results show that most of the intended effects of the reform were met. Namely, a significant reduction in the use of pretrial detention of about 17%-34%; a large and significant reduction in procedural times (18%); an increase in the use of mechanisms for early termination of the criminal process through settlements (42.6%-66.2%); and a large and significant increase in the percentage of cases that reach adjudication. Nevertheless, the implementation of the reform led to lower arrest and clearance rates. Our results indicate that arrest rates decreased by about 32%-35% and clearance rates by 15.7%-26.8%. Although the reform achieved its main goals, it directly affected the incentives for criminal behavior and lead to higher crime rates. Our results indicate an increase in both property crimes (19%) and violent crimes (17%) as a result of the implementation of the reform.

“The Failed War on Pre-Trial Detention: Evidence from a Quasi-Experimental Reform” (Preparing Resubmission)

During the 1990s and 2000s, 70 percent of Latin American countries transitioned from an inquisitorial criminal procedure to a U.S. adversarial model in a phenomenon known as the Latin American Criminal Procedure Revolution (LACPR). The LACPR involved more than 19 countries and cost around 1.51 billion dollars. Almost two decades after its implementation, the impact of the most significant procedural reform undertaken on the continent remains largely unexplored. Using Colombia as a study case, I explore the LACPR effect in pre-trial detentions using two methodological strategies. First, I exploit the exogenous variation resulting from the LACPR gradual implementation to estimate a difference-in-difference and an event study model. Secondly, I assess the impact of the LACPR in pre-trial admission and release rates using a regression analysis controlling for cofounding variables and time trends. The results provide compelling evidence that the U.S. adversarial model decreased the number of inmates in pre-trial detention, specifically male detainees. However, the results show that the decline is not associated with a decrease in the use of pre-trial detention (human rights gain) but with an increase in procedural speediness (efficiency gain). 

Peer-Reviewed Publications

“Cumulative Risks of Multiple Outcomes in New York City” Demography (with Peter Hepburn and Issa Kohler-Hausmann)

“Do Political Dynasties Affect Urban Inequality? Evidence from Crime and 311 in Chicago”, Forthcoming, Social Forces (with Stephanie Ternullo and Robert Vargas)

Manuscripts Under Review

“On the Tension Between Due Process Protection and public Safety: The Case of an Extensive Procedural Reform”, Preparing Re-Submission Journal of Quantitative Criminology (with Camilo Acosta and Daniel Mejía)

“The Failed War on Pre-Trial Detention: Evidence from a Quasi-Experimental Reform”, Preparing Resubmission, The Journal of Legal Studies

Book Chapters

Zorro Medina, A., (Under contract) “Latin American Expansion: A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation of a Criminal Procedural Reform.” In Iturralde, M., and Sozzo, M. Routledge Handbook on Crime and Punishment in Latin America

Zorro Medina, A., Forthcoming “An Experimental Evaluation of Criminal Settlements in Colombia” (“Una evaluación experimental de los acuerdos penales en Colombia”). In Langer, M. and Sozzo, M.

Zorro Medina, A., Forthcoming “John Pfaff and the Theories of Prison Growth” (“John Pfaff y las teorías sobre el crecimiento de la población reclusa”). In Ariza, L. and Tamayo, F. (coord) “Contemporary Thinking and Research on Crime and Punishment” (“Pensamiento e investigación contemporánea sobre el crimen y el castigo”). Bogotá, Colombia: Uniandes

Zorro Medina, A., 2021. “The Cost of Imprisonment” (“Los costos del encarcelamiento”). In Ariza, L. and Iturralde, M. (coord.) “The Prison in Colombia: Challenges and Perspectives” (“La prisión en Colombia: desafíos y perspectivas”). Bogotá, Colombia: Uniandes

Zorro Medina, A., Acosta, C. and Hernández, N., 2016. “An Economic Approach of the Pre-Trial Detention” (“Un enfoque económico a la detención preventiva”). In Lozano, E. (coord), “Theory and Empirical Economic Analysis of the Colombian Law” (“Teoría y puesta en práctica del análisis económico del derecho en Colombia”). Bogotá, Colombia: Uniandes

Work in Progress

Zorro Medina, A. “The Effect of the Chicago Anti-Gang Ordinance on Crime” (Results available/draft in preparation)

In 1992 Chicago enacted an anti-gang loitering ordinance under which the police issued more than 89,000 dispersal orders and made more than 42,000 arrests in three years. Yet the effects of the original 1992 ordinance on crime rates remain highly unexplored. In this paper, I propose to use a synthetic control method to evaluate the effects of this ordinance on urban crime in Chicago. The results suggest that in the absence of the ordinance, crime rates would have been lower. 

Braccacini, F., De la Rosa, C. and Zorro Medina, A. “Legitimacy Perception of Criminal Justice Systems: Evidence from an Experimental Setting” (Results available/draft in preparation)

This article explores the consequences of electing prosecutors via popular vote in the U.S. from two perspectives: the legitimacy of the criminal justice system and punitivity outcomes. Our results suggest that although previous literature has pointed out that during election years prosecutors tend to be more punitive, on average elected prosecutors tend to be less punitive during the rest of the term.  

Hepburn, P., Kohler-Hausmann, I. and Zorro Medina, A. “Estimating the Risk and Scope of Misdemeanors” (Results available/draft in preparation)

This article asks if measures and methods used in research linking the operation of the criminal justice system to the reproduction of inequality—focused on conviction and custodial sentences in the felony context—are appropriate to the subfelony world. While research on the felony justice system has largely focused on case outcomes (i.e., felony conviction and imprisonment), we argue that analysis of the subfelony world should be attuned to elements of the process, such as arrest frequency and scope. Using various methods, we document declines in misdemeanor conviction risk, increases in the individual-level intensity of misdemeanor arrest over time, and racial/ethnic variations in both. 

Zorro Medina, A., “Neoliberalism vs. Bureaucracy: Evidence from Mass-Incarceration in Colombia” (full draft available)

This paper provides the first causal evaluation of these theories on the expansion of the Latin American carceral state. Using Colombia as a case study, I show that adopting the criminal procedural adversarial model caused an increase in the prison population of 30%, remarkably increasing the male convicted population in prison by 32%. I identify the introduction of plea bargaining as the primary driver of prison population growth. However, while plea bargaining increased the male prison population, it decreased the female incarceration rate by 25%. 

Public Scholarship

Baseline of Human Rights in Prisons in Colombia“, 2017 (with Libardo Ariza, Manuel Iturralde, Nicolás Torres, Julián Urrutía)

“Releases from Prison during Covid”, 2020, El Espectador

“Chicago Police Recover Less than 20% of Carjacked Vehicles”, 2022 (with Robert Vargas, Caitlin Loftus, and Kiran Misra)

“Unintended Consequences of Legal Reforms”, 2021 (podcast episode Parsing Sciences available on Spotify, Apple Music and listen notes)