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The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance

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  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Bruce Sacerdote

Abstract

Does the economic model of optimal punishment explain the variation in the sentencing of murderers? As the model predicts, we find that murderers with a high expected probability of recidivism receive longer sentences. Sentences are longest in murder types where apprehension rates are low, and where deterrence elasticities appear to be high. However, sentences respond to victim characteristics in a way that is hard to reconcile with optimal punishment. In particular, victim characteristics are important determinants of sentencing among vehicular homicides, where victims are basically random and where the optimal punishment model predicts that victim characteristics should be ignored. Among vehicular homicides, drivers who kill women get 56 percent longer sentences. Drivers who kill blacks get 53 percent shorter sentences.

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Paper provided by Harvard - Institute of Economic Research in its series Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers with number 1894.

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Date of creation: 2000
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Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1894

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  1. Stigler, George J, 1970. "The Optimum Enforcement of Laws," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(3), pages 526-36, May-June.
  2. Steven D. Levitt, 1995. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Policeon Crime," NBER Working Papers 4991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Seidl, Christian & Traub, Stefan & Morone, Andrea, 2003. "Relative Deprivation, Personal Income Satisfaction, and Average Well-Being under Different Income Distributions," Economics Working Papers 2003,05, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Department of Economics.
  2. David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2005. "Crime, Punishment, and Myopia," NBER Working Papers 11491, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Di Tella, Rafael & Dubra, Juan, 2008. "Crime and punishment in the "American Dream"," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(7), pages 1564-1584, July.
  4. Jeffrey D. Kubik & John R. Moran, 2001. "Lethal Elections: Gubernatorial Politics and the Timing of Executions," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 40, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
  5. Edward L. Glaeser, 2002. "The Political Economy of Hatred," NBER Working Papers 9171, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Parikshit Ghosh, 2009. "Making the Punishment Fit the Crime or Taliban Justice? Optimal Penalties without Commitment," Working Papers id:2014, eSocialSciences.
  7. Goodman, John C. & Porter, Philip, 2002. "Is the criminal justice system just?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 25-39, July.
  8. Ann Dryden Witte & Robert Witt, 2001. "What We Spend and What We Get: Public and Private Provision of Crime Prevention," NBER Working Papers 8204, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Nicolas Baumard, 2011. "Punishment is not a group adaptation," Mind and Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 10(1), pages 1-26, June.

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