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Estimating the Deterrent Effect of Incarceration Using Sentencing Enhancements

  • David S. Abrams
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    Increasing criminal sanctions may reduce crime through two primary mechanisms: deterrence and incapacitation. Disentangling their effects is crucial for optimal policy setting. I use sentence enhancements due to the introduction of state add-on gun laws to isolate the deterrent effect of incarceration. Using cross-state variation in the timing of law passage dates, I find that the average add-on gun law results in a roughly 5 percent decline in gun robberies within the first 3 years. This result is robust to a number of specification tests and does not appear to be associated with large spillovers to other types of crime. (JEL K14, K42)

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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/app.4.4.32
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    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

    Volume (Year): 4 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 4 (October)
    Pages: 32-56

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:aejapp:v:4:y:2012:i:4:p:32-56
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/app.4.4.32
    Contact details of provider: Web page: https://www.aeaweb.org/aej-applied
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    1. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275, February.
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    5. Daniel P. Kessler & Anne Morrison Piehl, 1997. "The Role of Discretion in the Criminal Justice System," NBER Working Papers 6261, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    7. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-65, May-June.
    8. Kessler, Daniel P & Levitt, Steven D, 1999. "Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 343-63, April.
    9. Jesse M. Shapiro, 2007. "Do Harsher Prison Conditions Reduce Recidivism? A Discontinuity-based Approach," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 1-29.
    10. Eric Helland & Alexander Tabarrok, 2007. "Does Three Strikes Deter?: A Nonparametric Estimation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(2).
    11. Dan Silverman, 2004. "Street Crime And Street Culture," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(3), pages 761-786, 08.
    12. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati & Pietro Vertova, 2009. "The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 117(2), pages 257-280, 04.
    13. Emily G. Owens, 2009. "More Time, Less Crime? Estimating the Incapacitative Effect of Sentence Enhancements," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(3), pages 551-579, 08.
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