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Prison Work Programs in a Model of Deterrence

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  • A. Mitchell Polinsky

Abstract

This article considers the social desirability of prison work programs in a model in which the function of imprisonment is to deter crime. Two types of prison work programs are studied—voluntary ones and mandatory ones. A voluntary work program is socially beneficial: if prisoners are paid a wage that just compensates them for their disutility from work, the deterrent effect of the prison sentence is unaffected, but society obtains the product of the work program. But a mandatory work program is superior to a voluntary work program: if prisoners are forced to work without compensation, the deterrent effect of the prison sentence rises, allowing society to restore deterrence and save resources by reducing the probability of detection or the sentence length, and also to obtain greater output than under the optimal voluntary work program. In an extension of the basic analysis, however, in which prisoners vary in their disutility from work, a voluntary work program may be superior to a mandatory work program because prisoners with relatively high disutility from work can elect not to work.

Suggested Citation

  • A. Mitchell Polinsky, 2017. "Prison Work Programs in a Model of Deterrence," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(2), pages 391-422.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:19:y:2017:i:2:p:391-422.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/aler/ahw023
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Harry Elmer Barnes, 1921. "The Economics of American Penology as Illustrated by the Experience of the State of Pennsylvania," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29, pages 617-617.
    2. repec:eso:journl:v:47:y:2016:i:4:p:447-450 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Kenneth Avio, 1998. "The Economics of Prisons," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 6(2), pages 143-175, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • J41 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Labor Contracts
    • J48 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Particular Labor Markets; Public Policy
    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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