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Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation

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  • Kessler, Daniel P
  • Levitt, Steven D

Abstract

Differentiating empirically between deterrence and incapacitation is difficult since both are a function of expected punishment. In this article we demonstrate that the introduction of sentence enhancements provides a direct means of measuring deterrence. Because the criminal would have been sentenced to prison even without the law change, there is no additional incapacitation effect from the sentence enhancement in the short run. Therefore, any immediate decrease in crime must be due to deterrence. We test the model using California's Proposition 8, which imposed sentence enhancements for a selected group of crimes. Proposition 8 appears to reduce eligible crimes by 4 percent in the year following its passage and 8 percent 3 years after passage. These immediate effects are consistent with deterrence. The impact of the law continues to increase 5-7 years after its passage, suggesting that incapacitation may be important as well. Copyright 1999 by the University of Chicago.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Law & Economics.

Volume (Year): 42 (1999)
Issue (Month): 1 (April)
Pages: 343-63

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:42:y:1999:i:1:p:343-63

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Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/

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  1. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1997. "On the Disutility and Discounting of Imprisonment and the Theory of Deterrence," NBER Working Papers 6259, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. McCormick, Robert E & Tollison, Robert D, 1984. "Crime on the Court," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(2), pages 223-35, April.
  3. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1984. "The optimal use of fines and imprisonment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 89-99, June.
  4. Kessler, Daniel P & Piehl, Anne Morrison, 1998. "The Role of Discretion in the Criminal Justice System," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 256-76, October.
  5. Lott, John R, Jr, 1987. "Should the Wealthy Be Able to "Buy Justice"?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(6), pages 1307-16, December.
  6. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  7. Isaac Ehrlich, 1996. "Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 43-67, Winter.
  8. Kaplow, Louis & Shavell, Steven, 1994. "Optimal Law Enforcement with Self-Reporting of Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(3), pages 583-606, June.
  9. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-65, May-June.
  10. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-23.
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