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Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation

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  • Daniel Kessler
  • Steven D. Levitt

Abstract

It is typically difficult to differentiate empirically between deterrence and incapacitation since both are a function of expected punishment. In this paper we demonstrate that the introduction of sentence enhancements (i.e. increased punishments that are added on to prison sentences that would have been served anyway) provides a direct means of measuring deterrence. Because the criminal would have been sentenced to prison anyway, 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. In the year following its passage, crimes covered by Proposition 8 fell by more than 10 percent relative to similar crimes not affected by the law, suggesting a large deterrent effect. Three years after the law comes into effect, eligible crimes have fallen roughly 20-40 percent compared to non-eligible crimes. This large deterrent effect suggests that sentence enhancements, and may be more cost-effective than is generally thought.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6484.

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Date of creation: Mar 1998
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Publication status: published as Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 42, no. 1, part 2 (April 1999):343-363.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6484

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  1. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  2. Louis Kaplow & Steven Shavell, 1991. "Optimal Law Enforcement with Self-Reporting of Behavior," NBER Working Papers 3822, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-65, May-June.
  4. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-23.
  5. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1982. "The Optimal Use of Fines and Imprisonment," NBER Working Papers 0932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. 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.
  7. 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, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(2), pages 256-76, October.
  8. McCormick, Robert E & Tollison, Robert D, 1984. "Crime on the Court," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(2), pages 223-35, April.
  9. Isaac Ehrlich, 1996. "Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 43-67, Winter.
  10. Lott, John R, Jr, 1987. "Should the Wealthy Be Able to "Buy Justice"?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(6), pages 1307-16, December.
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