David Macdonald

PhD Job Market Candidate

I am a job market candidate at the Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia. My research interests are in Public Economics, The Economics of Crime, Law and Economics and Applied Econometrics.

My job market paper explores the effect of early release incentives for incarcerated individuals. Using a regression discontinuity design I find that in the absence of these incentives rehabilitative effort while incarcerated is reduced and recidivism risk after release increases. I Apply the Causal Forest Algorithm to be used in the Regression Discontinuity framework and show significant heterogeneity in these estimated treatment effects. This heterogeneity reveals that early release incentives matter even for more serious offenders (i.e. those with more extensive criminal records and those convicted of more serious crimes).

I will be available for interview during the 2020/2021 Canadian Economics Employment Exchange, European Economic Association conferences, and American Economic Association conferences. I expect to graduate in 2021.




Truth-In-Sentencing (TIS) laws eliminate the use of discretion in the decision to release inmates from prison. This sharply decreases the incentive for good behaviour and rehabilitative effort among prisoners. In this paper I exploit a sharp cutoff in these incentives created by the introduction of TIS in Arizona. Employing a regression discontinuity design I estimate the effect of the introduction of this law on offenders’ behaviour while incarcerated and their post release likelihood of re-incarceration. I show that judges reduced sentence length by 20% for TIS eligible offenders leading their actual and expected time-served to remain unchanged. This allows me to isolate the change in incentives that underlie TIS laws as the mechanism behind the treatment effects observed in the outcomes of interest. I find that violent rule infractions committed by offenders in their first year incarcerated increased by 55% on average for those who were subject to the law and that these same offenders were more 7 percentage points more likely to return to prison after the expiration of their sentence. I find evidence of significant heterogeneity in the treatment effect in the case of violent infractions. To explore and detect these heterogeneous effects I make use of the ‘causal forest’ algorithm developed by Athey and Wager (2018). I find that the increase in violent infractions was the largest for serious violent offenders with longer prison stays, who saw an increase in first year violent infractions of 130%. [GO TO PAPER]


We explore a temporary cold weather homeless shelter program in Vancouver, BC, Canada in operation during the winters of 2008 through 2013. Constraints faced in setting up these shelters created plausible exogenous variation in shelter location choice within targeted neighborhoods. Using data on reported property crimes collected by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), we are able to exploit this variation. These data include the month, year and precise location, for each incidence of 6 different types of property crime. Using the fineness of the geography in the data coupled with the exogenous variation in shelter location choice we employ a difference-in-differences strategy to identify the causal effect of these shelters on crime in their immediate locale. We find heterogenous effects: In the opening month of a shelter crime decreases very near the shelter and in latter months there is a small increase in crime relative to the counterfactual. We find little evidence these impacts extend beyond a shelters immediate locale.


  • 2020 Public Economics (Graduate), University of British Columbia
  • 2019 Applied Econometrics (Graduate), University of British Columbia
  • 2018 Policy Evaluation (Graduate), University of British Columbia
  • 2016 Game Theory, University of British Columbia
  • 2015 Honours Microeconomic Theory I, University of British Columbia
  • 2014 Principles of Microeconomics, University of British Columbia
  • 2013 Principles of Macroeconomics, University of British Columbia
  • 2013 Intermediate Macroeconomics, Simon Fraser University
  • 2013 Development, Simon Fraser University
  • 2012 Introductory Microeconomics, Simon Fraser University
  • 2012 Introductory Macroeconomics, Simon Fraser University