Anita Mukherjee, an assistant professor of risk and insurance at the Wisconsin School of Business, was a featured guest on a recent episode of podcast Freakonomics MD. Hosted by Dr. Bapu Jena and titled “How Will We Handle the Heat?,” the episode examined how rising temperatures are impacting the planet on both a global and individual scale. Mukherjee shared her expertise, including a recent study on heat and prison populations—a demographic that often has no choice or option of controlling the physical environment.
Using data from Mississippi’s Department of Corrections, Mukherjee and co-author Nicholas J. Sanders of Cornell University examined what prison systems refer to as “infractions,” she told Jena.
“These are the behavioral incidents in prison, which can include new crimes. So, we categorize them as violence, aggressive behavior, disobedience, refusal to work, riotous behavior. And we really only find effects on the violence. Now, it could be a reporting issue—maybe on very hot days, guards just spend their energy only reporting the violent incidents and don’t bother recording refusal to work. It suggests that heat has a unique relationship to violence, and not just general disobedience, which we weren’t fully expecting.”
Mukherjee said that their study may hold wider implications about heat and behavior that extend beyond just the prison setting.
“So, the question is: What is the effect of heat potentially outside prison? Because our study is only really estimating the effects inside prison. The effects of heat on violence are likely to be higher in our study than for people not in prison for a couple of different reasons. One is that people in prison may already have a higher likelihood for violence than people outside prison.”
Mukherjee’s research avenues cover both U.S. and emerging market settings and include social insurance, financial literacy, and legal policies on vulnerable populations, particularly in relation to aging and health. She was recently named a TIAA Institute Fellow and is a member of the G53 Financial Literacy and Personal Finance Research Network at George Washington University’s Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. Mukherjee is also an affiliate of the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Center for Financial Security, the Institute for Research on Poverty, the Center for Demography and Ecology, the Center for Demography of Health and Aging, and the University of Wisconsin Law School.
Read the working paper: “The Causal Effect of Heat on Violence: Social Implications of Unmitigated Heat Among the Incarcerated,” available through the National Bureau of Economic Research