Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Matthew C. Harris

Committee Members

María Padilla-Romo, Marianne H. Wanamaker, Nicolas R. Ziebarth


This dissertation comprises three essays, each of which addresses a research question in public economics.

The first essay investigates the impact of relaxing minimum sentencing rules for drug crimes on drug-related mortality. Conditional on a set population of opioid-dependents, opioid fatalities are a function of the total quantity available and the ease of accessing that quantity. While other studies examine policy changes affecting aggregate supply, I focus on the effects of easing access by changing the trade costs of moving opioids to heavy users. I exploit a quasi-experiment in Florida that raised the statutory minimum weight thresholds that trigger mandatory minimum sentencing for illegal possession, manufacture, or trafficking in prescription painkillers. Using synthetic control, I find that the revised legislation increases opioid-related mortality.

The second essay, a joint work with Maria Padilla-Romo, provides evidence that short-term shocks to student cognitive performance have long-lasting consequences for human capital development. We use administrative data from Mexico City to show that students’ exposure to violent crime in the week immediately prior to a high-stakes exam lowers females’ test scores by 11%SD. As a result, 19% of female students exposed to violent crime are subsequently assigned to less-preferred, lower-quality high schools. We find no such effect for males, leading to a further gender disparity in test scores. We show that crime-induced concentration problems are an underlying mechanism behind the detrimental effects on test scores.

The third essay, a joint work with Matthew C. Harris, studies police militarization. Prior evidence shows that the effect of police militarization on offender deaths is mixed. In this paper, we first attempt to understand the discrepancy of prior studies that utilize either crowd-sourced data or voluntary law enforcement reporting data. We find that differences between these data sources explain the discrepancy in results. Next, we explore whether police militarization affects reporting behavior. Exploiting exogenous variation in military equipment availability and the difference in the number of reported offender deaths, we find that the acquisition of military equipment leads to the underreporting of offender deaths.

Available for download on Saturday, May 15, 2027

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