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Crime, punishment, and prejudice

  • Curry, Philip A.
  • Klumpp, Tilman

We examine the link between the penalties used to punish convicted criminals and judicial prejudice against defendants. In our model, agents choose to commit crimes if their privately observed utility from doing so is high enough. A crime generates noisy evidence, and defendants are convicted when the realized amount of evidence is sufficiently strong to establish the probability of guilt beyond a fixed threshold. We show that if convicted offenders are incarcerated, poorer individuals face a strong prior prejudice in trials and are therefore convicted with less evidence than richer individuals. At the same time, they commit crimes more frequently. Penalties such as monetary fines can eliminate this bias, but may also reverse it. We fully characterize the penalty schedule that guarantees an unbiased equilbrium. We extend the model such that agents also differ in characteristics such as race or gender. We show biased outcomes (targeted at subgroups of the population) may still exist, even if all members of the population are ex-ante alike in their economic characteristics.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

Volume (Year): 93 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1-2 (February)
Pages: 73-84

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Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:93:y:2009:i:1-2:p:73-84
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578

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  1. 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 451-80, October.
  2. David Bjerk, 2004. "Racial Profiling, Statistical Discrimination, and the Effect of a Colorblind Policy on the Crime Rate," Department of Economics Working Papers 2004-11, McMaster University.
  3. Winand Emons, . "Escalating Penalties for Repeat Offenders," American Law & Economics Association Annual Meetings 1005, American Law & Economics Association.
  4. Phelps, Edmund S, 1972. "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 659-61, September.
  5. Coate, Stephen & Loury, Glenn C, 1993. "Will Affirmative-Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1220-40, December.
  6. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1999. "The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," NBER Working Papers 6993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Sah, Raaj K, 1991. "Social Osmosis and Patterns of Crime," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(6), pages 1272-95, December.
  8. Raphael, Steven & Winter-Ebmer, Rudolf, 1999. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," CEPR Discussion Papers 2129, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  9. Verdier, T. & Zenou, Y., 2001. "Racial beliefs, location and the causes of crime," Discussion Paper Series In Economics And Econometrics 0101, Economics Division, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton.
  10. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1982. "The Optimal Use of Fines and Imprisonment," NBER Working Papers 0932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Grogger, Jeff, 1998. "Market Wages and Youth Crime," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(4), pages 756-91, October.
  12. Grogger, Jeffrey, 1995. "The Effect of Arrests on the Employment and Earnings of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(1), pages 51-71, February.
  13. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Meyers, Samuel L, Jr, 1983. "Estimating the Economic Model of Crime: Employment versus Punishment Effects," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 98(1), pages 157-66, February.
  15. Nagin, Daniel & Waldfogel, Joel, 1998. "The Effect of Conviction on Income Through the Life Cycle," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 25-40, March.
  16. Lott, John R, Jr, 1992. "An Attempt at Measuring the Total Monetary Penalty from Drug Convictions: The Importance of an Individual's Reputation," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 21(1), pages 159-87, January.
  17. Nicola Persico, 2002. "Racial Profiling, Fairness, and Effectiveness of Policing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1472-1497, December.
  18. Levitt, Steven D., 1997. "Incentive compatibility constraints as an explanation for the use of prison sentences instead of fines," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 17(2), pages 179-192, June.
  19. Georgakopoulos, Nicholas L., 2004. "Self-fulfilling impressions of criminality: unintentional race profiling," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 169-190, June.
  20. Bar-Ilan, Avner & Sacerdote, Bruce, 2004. "The Response of Criminals and Noncriminals to Fines," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 47(1), pages 1-17, April.
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