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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
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  1. 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.
  2. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  3. 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.
  4. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1982. "The Optimal Use of Fines and Imprisonment," NBER Working Papers 0932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  7. 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.
  8. Raphael, Steven & WINTER-EBMER, RUDOLF, 1998. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt5hb4h56g, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  9. Nicola Persico, 2002. "Racial Profiling, Fairness, and Effectiveness of Policing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1472-1497, December.
  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. 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.
  12. Emons, Winand, 2007. "Escalating penalties for repeat offenders," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 170-178.
  13. Jeff Grogger, 1997. "Market Wages and Youth Crime," NBER Working Papers 5983, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Daniel Nagin & Joel Waldfogel, 1993. "The Effect of Convicton on Income Through the Life Cycle," NBER Working Papers 4551, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. Samuel L. Myers, 1983. "Estimating the Economic Model of Crime: Employment Versus Punishment Effects," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(1), pages 157-166.
  19. Phelps, Edmund S, 1972. "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 659-61, September.
  20. 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.
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