SFU economics welcomes new faculty member Kevin Schnepel

July 20, 2018

It is with pleasure that the Department of Economics at Simon Fraser University welcomes our new faculty member, Dr. Kevin Schnepel. Dr. Schnepel comes to us from the University of Sydney, where he was an assistant professor for the past five years. His research focuses on the economics of crime, health economics, labour economics, and environmental economics.

It was during his time competing his master’s program in economics that Schnepel first delved into labour, health, and crime as his areas of interest. As a master’s student at the University of Colorado, he took on a research assistanceship for a labour economics professor who was conducting work that fascinated Schnepel.

Following the completion of his master’s degree, Schnepel went on to teach an introductory economics course in a prison college program in Colorado. His conversations with the prisoners before and after the lectures inspired him to pursue his PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His doctorate studies investigated key determinants of crime, and the causal impact of the labour market and health interventions on criminal behaviour.

Schnepel is passionate about projects that increase our understanding of programs and policies that can increase rates of successful re-entry into society for released prisoners.

“Crime is incredibly costly to society,” says Schnepel. “Economists can bring a lot to the table in helping to better understand what types of policies and interventions can most effectively reduce crime. Over the last decade there has been a substantial increase in this field.

“One of the aspects of this field that I like is that it overlaps with so many other areas of applied economics—labour, health, [and] environmental, just to name a few.”

When Schnepel tells others that he’s an economics who studies crime, many people assume he focuses on financial fraud or “white collar” crime. “While I find those topics interesting,” says Schnepel, “my research has focused on the types of criminal activity that are intricately linked with social and economic disadvantage.”

Schnepel’s primary dissertation, recently published by the Economics Journal, investigates the causal impact of job opportunities on the probability of returning to prison. Contrary to prior research on the subject, which found a very small relationship between between labour market conditions and criminal reoffense, Schnepel’s research showed a much larger response to changes in labour market conditions that proved to be far more relevant for this population. This paper has impacted other studies in the economics of crime field, and has also helped researchers and policy makers better understand the complex relationship between job opportunities and crime.

Schnepel is hopeful that his research can contribute to important policy debates. He is starting to see some of his recent work enter into policy conversations, which he finds very exciting.

Known for more than just his exciting research on crime and labour economics, Schnepel has also been the recipient of multiple teaching awards, including the University of Sydney Dean’s Commendation for Excellence in Teaching in both 2015 and 2016. When asked how he balances research and teaching, he explains that he focuses on either one or the other at a time. “It’s hard and I don’t have any secret recipe,” he adds. “When I am teaching, I prioritize my students and my lectures over research.” The summers and non-teaching terms, he explains, are vital for his research productivity.

His philosophy on teaching is to engage students in the classroom and in the material by developing skills that everyone can gain from, regardless of what career path they choose. He integrates current research into his classes to allow students to explore the topics that economists are working on in real time.

Schnepel cites his new position at SFU as one of the career milestones he is proudest of. Surprisingly, he actually started out as an accountant following his undergraduate studies, and he is “very happy” that he went back to school for economics. His advice to young scholars and PhD students in economics is to “never give up! No seriously, never give up!”

He looks forward to finishing some projects on the horizon, including one that investigates the causal impact of providing low-risk first-time offenders with a “second chance” instead of a felony conviction and potential prison time.

When asked if there’s anything else he’d like to add, he quips, “Where can I find McFogg the Dog?”