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Deterred or Detained? A Unified Model of Criminal Punishment

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  • Thomas J. Miceli

Abstract

The standard economic model of crime since Becker (1968) is primarily concerned with deterrence. Actual punishment policies, however, appear to rely on imprisonment to a greater extent than is prescribed by that model. One reason may be the incapacitation function of prison. The model developed in this paper seeks to incorporate incapacitation into the standard model. A key finding of the hybrid model is that when prison is the only form of punishment and the probability of apprehension is fixed, incapacitation can result in a longer or a shorter optimal prison term compared to the deterrence-only model. It is longer if there is underdeterrence, and shorter if there is overdeterrence. When fines are also available and are not constrained by offenders' wealth, the optimal prison term is zero. Since the fine achieves first-best deterrence, only efficient crimes are committed, and hence, there is no gain from incapacitation. Other aspects of the standard model are also studied within the context of the hybrid model.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2009-16.

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Length: 26 pages
Date of creation: Jun 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2009-16

Note: I appreciate the comments of Steve Shavell on an earlier draft.
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Keywords: Deterrence; imprisonment; incapacitation; law enforcement;

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  1. Loury, Glenn C, 1979. "Market Structure and Innovation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 93(3), pages 395-410, August.
  2. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1981. "On the Usefulness of Controlling Individuals: An Economic Analysis of Rehabilitation, Incapacitation, and Deterrence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 307-22, June.
  3. Winand Emons, 2002. "Subgame Perfect Punishment for Repeat Offenders," Diskussionsschriften dp0211, Universitaet Bern, Departement Volkswirtschaft.
  4. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  5. Lewin, Jeff L. & Trumbull, William N., 1990. "The social value of crime?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 271-284, December.
  6. Mitchell Polinsky, A. & Rubinfeld, Daniel L., 1991. "A model of optimal fines for repeat offenders," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 291-306, December.
  7. Shavell, Steven, 1987. "A Model of Optimal Incapacitation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 107-10, May.
  8. Mortensen, Dale T, 1982. "Property Rights and Efficiency in Mating, Racing, and Related Games," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 968-79, December.
  9. Miceli, Thomas J., 1991. "Optimal criminal procedure: Fairness and deterrence," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 3-10, May.
  10. Thomas J. Miceli & Catherine Bucci, 2004. "A Simple Theory of Increasing Penalties for Repeat Offenders," Working papers 2004-39, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
  11. Davis, Michael L, 1988. "Time and Punishment: An Intertemporal Model of Crime," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(2), pages 383-90, April.
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