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Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality

Listed author(s):
  • Magnus Lofstrom
  • Steven Raphael

Crime rates in the United States have declined to historical lows since the early 1990s. Prison and jail incarceration rates as well as community correctional populations have increased greatly since the mid-1970s. Both of these developments have disproportionately impacted poor and minority communities. In this paper, we document these trends. We then assess whether the crime declines can be attributed to the massive expansion of the US criminal justice system. We argue that the crime rate is certainly lower as a result of this expansion and in the early 1990s was likely a third lower than what it would have been absent changes in sentencing practices in the 1980s. However, there is little evidence that further stiffening of sentences during the 1990s—a period when prison and other correctional populations expanded rapidly—have had an impact. Hence, the growth in criminal justice populations since 1990s has exacerbated socioeconomic inequality in the United States without generating much benefit in terms of lower crime rates.

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File URL: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.30.2.103
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File URL: https://www.aeaweb.org/jep/data/3002/30020103_data.zip
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 30 (2016)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 103-126

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:30:y:2016:i:2:p:103-26
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.2.103
Contact details of provider: Web page: https://www.aeaweb.org/jep/
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  1. Devah Pager, 2003. "The mark of a criminal record," Natural Field Experiments 00319, The Field Experiments Website.
  2. Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 163-190, Winter.
  3. Anna Aizer & Joseph J. Doyle, 2015. "Juvenile Incarceration, Human Capital, and Future Crime: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(2), pages 759-803.
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  7. John J. Donohue, III & Steven D. Levitt, 2004. "Further Evidence that Legalized Abortion Lowered Crime: A Reply to Joyce," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1).
  8. Roland G. Fryer Jr. & Paul S. Heaton & Steven D. Levitt & Kevin M. Murphy, 2013. "Measuring Crack Cocaine And Its Impact," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 51(3), pages 1651-1681, 07.
  9. Christopher L. Foote & Christopher F. Goetz, 2008. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime: Comment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 407-423.
  10. Jeffrey Grogger, 1995. "The Effect of Arrests on the Employment and Earnings of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 51-71.
  11. Nevin, Rick, 1999. "How lead exposure relates to temporal changes in IQ, violent crime, and unwed pregnancy," MPRA Paper 35324, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  12. O'Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2010. "Homicide in black and white," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(3), pages 215-230, November.
  13. Ilyana Kuziemko, 2013. "How should inmates be released from prison? An assessment of parole versus fixed-sentence regimes," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(1), pages 371-424.
  14. Nevin, Rick, 2007. "Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure," MPRA Paper 35338, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  15. Holzer, Harry J & Raphael, Steven & Stoll, Michael A, 2006. "Perceived Criminality, Criminal Background Checks, and the Racial Hiring Practices of Employers," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(2), pages 451-480, October.
  16. Rucker Johnson & Steven Raphael, 2012. "How Much Crime Reduction Does the Marginal Prisoner Buy?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(2), pages 275-310.
  17. Philip J. Cook & John MacDonald, 2011. "Public Safety through Private Action: an Economic Assessment of BIDS," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 121(552), pages 445-462, 05.
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