Paper Clip: Even a little extra income can help wean criminals away

The researchers experimentally evaluated a programme of agricultural training, capital inputs, and counselling for Liberian ex-fighters who were illegally mining or occupying rubber plantations.

By: Express News Service | Published:July 6, 2015 2:26 am

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SOCIAL STRATEGY UNEMPLOYMENT & LAWLESSNESS National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper,
June 2015  

Authors: Christopher Blattman and Jeannie Annan

States and aid agencies use employment programmes to rehabilitate high-risk men in the belief that peaceful work opportunities will deter them from crime and violence. However, rigorous evidence is rare.

The researchers experimentally evaluated a programme of agricultural training, capital inputs, and counselling for Liberian ex-fighters who were illegally mining or occupying rubber plantations. Fourteen months after the programme ended, the men who accepted the programme offer increased their farm employment and profits, and shifted work hours away from illicit activities. The men also reduced interest in mercenary work in a nearby war.

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Finally, some men did not receive their capital inputs but expected a future cash transfer instead, and they reduced illicit and mercenary activities most of all.

The evidence from the study suggested that illicit and mercenary labour supply responds to small changes in returns to peaceful work, especially future and ongoing incentives. But the impacts of training alone, without capital, appear to be low.

The researchers analysed a programme of “demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration” or DDR, for former mercenaries who, after the end of the civil wars in Liberia, on the west coast of Africa, and took to the robbing of gold, diamonds, rubber and wood. These ex-soldiers were also recruited as mercenaries for other wars being fought in the region, or to threaten or coerce vulnerable populations.

A non-profit organisation, Action on Armed Violence, offered some of these individuals entry into the DDR programme. They were trained in agriculture, and given counseling and literacy lessons. Each of the recruits was also provided with farm supplies worth $ 125, such as agricultural equipment or supplied to tend livestock.

After 14 months, the researchers went back to the group. They contacted over 90 per cent of the 1,123 participants and found that even the individuals most likely to be involved in illegal/mercenary activities remained interested in their new jobs. As a whole, the involvement of the DDR participants in criminal acts was seen to be reduced by about a fifth, even though no individual had completely given up all criminal activities.

The study found that an increase in income of as little as 40 cents per day was incentive enough for many men to put in more effort in their new occupations, and to stay away from their former mercenary activities. The promise that they would be able to earn more in the future was especially effective in keeping them off illegal activity.

(Adapted from study Abstract)

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