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Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality

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  • Magnus Lofstrom
  • Steven Raphael

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Magnus Lofstrom & Steven Raphael, 2016. "Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(2), pages 103-126, Spring.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:30:y:2016:i:2:p:103-26
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.30.2.103
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Nezih Guner & Christopher Rauh & Elizabeth Caucutt, 2017. "Is Marriage for White People? Incarceration and the Racial Marriage Divide," 2017 Meeting Papers 779, Society for Economic Dynamics.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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