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The Deterrence Effect of Prison: Dynamic Theory and Evidence

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  • David S. Lee

    (Princeton University and NBER)

  • Justin McCrary

    (University of California, Berkeley and NBER)

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    Abstract

    Using administrative, longitudinal data on felony arrests in Florida, we exploit the discontinuous increase in the punitiveness of criminal sanctions at 18 to estimate the deterrence effect of incarceration. Our analysis suggests a 2 percent decline in the log-odds of offending at 18, with standard errors ruling out declines of 11 percent or more. We interpret these magnitudes using a stochastic dynamic extension of Becker’s (1968) model of criminal behavior. Calibrating the model to match key empirical moments, we conclude that deterrence elasticities with respect to sentence lengths are no more negative than -0.13 for young offenders.

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    File URL: http://www.princeton.edu/ceps/workingpapers/189lee.pdf
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    Bibliographic Info

    Paper provided by Princeton University, Department of Economics, Center for Economic Policy Studies. in its series Working Papers with number 1168.

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    Date of creation: Jul 2009
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    Handle: RePEc:pri:cepsud:189lee

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    Related research

    Keywords: Prison; crime; deterrence; incarceration;

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    5. Ilyana Kuziemko, 2007. "Going Off Parole: How the Elimination of Discretionary Prison Release Affects the Social Cost of Crime," NBER Working Papers 13380, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Drago, Francesco & Galbiati, Roberto & Vertova, Pietro, 2007. "The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2912, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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    Cited by:
    1. Cervellati, Matteo & Vanin, Paolo, 2013. "“Thou shalt not covet”: Prohibitions, temptation and moral values," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 15-28.
    2. Derek Neal & Armin Rick, 2014. "The Prison Boom and the Lack of Black Progress after Smith and Welch," NBER Working Papers 20283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Giovanni Mastrobuoni & Paolo Pinotti, 2014. "The Ups and Downs in Women's Employment: Shifting Composition or Behavior from 1970 to 2010?," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 14-212, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
    4. Akerlund, David & Golsteyn, Bart H.H. & Grönqvist, Hans & Lindahl, Lena, 2014. "Time Preferences and Criminal Behavior," IZA Discussion Papers 8168, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    5. Timothy K.M. Beatty & Laura Blow & Thomas Crossley & Cormac O'Dea, 2011. "Cash by any other name? Evidence on labelling from the UK Winter Fuel Payment," IFS Working Papers W11/10, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    6. Aaron Chalfin & Justin McCrary, 2013. "The Effect of Police on Crime: New Evidence from U.S. Cities, 1960-2010," NBER Working Papers 18815, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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