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Economical Crime Control

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  • Philip J. Cook
  • Jens Ludwig

Abstract

This paper is the introductory chapter for the forthcoming NBER volume Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs. The Great Recession has led to cuts in criminal justice expenditures, and the trend towards ever-higher incarceration rates that has been underway since the 1970s in the U.S. appears to have turned the corner. That raises the question of whether the crime drop can be sustained. State and local revenue shortfalls have engendered intense interest in cost-cutting measures that do not sacrifice public safety. We argue that there is some reason for optimism, simply because current criminal justice allocations and policies appear to be inefficient – more crime control could be accomplished with fewer resources. The crime problem is often framed as a debate between those who favor a “tough” punitive approach versus those who favor a “soft” approach that focuses on prevention or remediation programs. But the canonical economic model of crime from Becker (1968) suggests that the decision to commit crime involves a weighing of both benefits and costs, implying that both tough and soft approaches might be useful. It is ultimately an empirical question about how the marginal crime-control dollar may be most effectively deployed. The evidence presented in this edited volume suggests that a more efficient portfolio of crime-control strategies would involve greater attention to enhancing the certainty rather than the severity of punishment for criminal behavior, stimulating private-sector cooperation for controlling crime, and making strategic investments in the human capital of at-risk populations, including in particular efforts to improve the social-cognitive skills of justice-system-involved populations. To help illustrate the magnitude of the inefficiencies within the current system, the essay concludes with a thought experiment that considers how much additional crime-prevention could be obtained by reverting average sentence lengths back to 1984 levels (midway through the Reagan era) and redirecting the freed-up resources (on the order of $12 billion annually) to alternative uses.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 16513.

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Date of creation: Nov 2010
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Publication status: published as Economical Crime Control , Philip J. Cook, Jens Ludwig. in Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs , Cook, Ludwig, and McCrary. 2011
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:16513

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  1. David Deming, 2009. "Early Childhood Intervention and Life-Cycle Skill Development: Evidence from Head Start," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 1(3), pages 111-34, July.
  2. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1145-77, September.
  3. Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, 2007. "Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Childhood Lead Exposure on Crime," NBER Working Papers 13097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Anderson, David A, 1999. "The Aggregate Burden of Crime," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(2), pages 611-42, October.
  5. Thomas Dee, 2009. "Conditional Cash Penalties in Education: Evidence from the Learnfare Experiment," NBER Working Papers 15126, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, 2006. "Aiming for evidence-based gun policy," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(3), pages 691-735.
  7. James J. Heckman & Rodrigo Pinto & Peter A. Savelyev, 2012. "Understanding the Mechanisms through Which an Influential Early Childhood Program Boosted Adult Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 18581, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Lance Lochner & Enrico Moretti, 2001. "The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-Reports," NBER Working Papers 8605, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Theodore J. Joyce, 2009. "Abortion and Crime: A Review," NBER Working Papers 15098, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Ludwig, Jens & Miller, Douglas L., 2006. "Does Head Start Improve Children's Life Chances? Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design," IZA Discussion Papers 2111, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  11. John Donohue & Steven Levitt, 2000. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," NBER Working Papers 8004, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Evans, William N. & Owens, Emily G., 2007. "COPS and crime," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(1-2), pages 181-201, February.
  13. Yona Rubinstein & James J. Heckman, 2001. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 145-149, May.
  14. Raphael, Steven & WINTER-EBMER, RUDOLF, 1998. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt5hb4h56g, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  15. Clive R Belfield & Milagros Nores & Steve Barnett & Lawrence Schweinhart, 2006. "The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program: Cost–Benefit Analysis Using Data from the Age-40 Followup," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 41(1).
  16. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig & Sudhir Venkatesh & Anthony A. Braga, 2005. "Underground Gun Markets," NBER Working Papers 11737, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Liu, Xiaodong & Patacchini, Eleonora & Zenou, Yves & Lee, Lung-Fei, 2011. "Criminal Networks: Who is the Key Player?," Research Papers in Economics 2011:7, Stockholm University, Department of Economics.
  2. van Ours, Jan C & Vollaard, Ben, 2013. "The engine immobilizer: a non-starter for car thieves," CEPR Discussion Papers 9298, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.

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