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An Experimental and Survey Analysis of Economic Sanctions in Centre County, Pennsylvania (ICPSR 36152)

Principal Investigator(s): Ruback, R. Barry, Pennsylvania State University


This study comprises two parts: (1) an experimental analysis of whether reminders about payment and reasons why payment should be made are effective in getting offenders to pay their court-ordered economic sanctions; and (2) a survey of probationers who were ordered to pay economic sanctions that investigated five reasons why offenders may not pay their court-ordered restitution: inability to pay, not knowing what they owe, disagreeing with the purpose and fairness of restitution, perceived unfair treatment by the probation officer, and problems with the mechanics of paying. A sample of 771 probationers was selected from Centre County, Pennsylvania. All individuals included in the sample had an outstanding restitution balance. The experiment addressed two reasons offenders give for why they do not pay their court-ordered restitution: (a) lack of understanding of how much they owe and where their payments are directed and (b) a belief that the sanctions are unfair. A total of 771 offenders were randomly assigned to one of four conditions in a 2 x 2 between-subjects design in which, over a 6-month period in 2012, three quarters of the offenders received monthly letters that contained (a) information or no information about the economic sanctions they had paid and what they still owed (Information manipulation) and (b) a statement or no statement about reasons for paying restitution (Rationale manipulation). The remaining offenders did not receive a letter. Payments were tracked monthly for 6 months after the first letter was sent, and at 9, 12, and 18 months after the first letter, using the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System website. The survey of the same probationers was administered approximately 14 months after the first letter was sent (8 months after the final letter). Of the 771 offenders, 149 returned a completed survey.

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Study Description


Ruback, R. Barry. An Experimental and Survey Analysis of Economic Sanctions in Centre County, Pennsylvania. ICPSR36152-v1. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2016-01-04. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36152.v1

Persistent URL: https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36152.v1

Export Citation:

  • RIS (generic format for RefWorks, EndNote, etc.)
  • EndNote XML (EndNote X4.0.1 or higher)


This study was funded by:

  • National Science Foundation (1127014)

Scope of Study

Subject Terms:    court costs, court system, crime prediction, crime reduction, crime statistics, criminal justice programs, economic sanctions, probation, probation officers, restitution programs

Smallest Geographic Unit:    County

Geographic Coverage:    Pennsylvania, United States

Time Period:   

  • 2012-04--2013-07

Date of Collection:   

  • 2012-04--2013-07

Unit of Observation:    Individual

Universe:    The population of delinquent (outstanding economic sanctions) probationers from Centre County, Pennsylvania.

Data Type(s):    administrative records data, experimental data, survey data


Study Purpose:    As both an experiment and a survey, the study has two purposes. The first is to determine whether mailed reminders are an effective method for increasing the likelihood for paying court-ordered economic sanctions. The second is to collect information on probationers knowledge and understanding of, and ability to pay economic sanctions.

Sample:    No sample was taken. That is, the experimental subjects represent the exhaustive population of all delinquent (outstanding amounts owed) probationers in Centre County as of April, 2012.

Time Method:    Longitudinal: Cohort/ Event-based

Weight:    None

Mode of Data Collection:    mail questionnaire

Response Rates:    Because of the nature of the design, 100 percent of subjects participated in the experiment. That is, all 771 subjects were assigned to 1 of 4 experimental conditions. Approximately 71 percent (N = 551) received letters and the remainder served as a control group. Approximately 19 percent of subjects (N = 149) completed the survey following the experiment.

Extent of Processing:   ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Created variable labels and/or value labels.
  • Standardized missing values.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


Original ICPSR Release:   2016-01-04



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