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Prison Conditions, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence


  • Lawrence Katz
  • Steven D. Levitt
  • Ellen Shustorovich


Previous research has attempted to identify a deterrent effect of capital punishment. We argue that the quality of life in prison is likely to have a greater impact on criminal behavior than the death penalty. Using state-level panel data covering the period 1950--90, we demonstrate that the death rate among prisoners (the best available proxy for prison conditions) is negatively correlated with crime rates, consistent with deterrence. This finding is shown to be quite robust. In contrast, there is little systematic evidence that the execution rate influences crime rates in this time period. Copyright 2003, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence Katz & Steven D. Levitt & Ellen Shustorovich, 2003. "Prison Conditions, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 318-343, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:amlawe:v:5:y:2003:i:2:p:318-343

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Polinsky, A Mitchell, 1997. "Are Punitive Damages Really Insignificant, Predictable, and Rational? A Comment on Eisenberg et al," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 663-677, June.
    2. Manning, Richard L, 1994. "Changing Rules in Tort Law and the Market for Childhood Vaccines," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 37(1), pages 247-275, April.
    3. Joni Hersch & W. Kip Viscusi, 2004. "Punitive Damages: How Judges and Juries Perform," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 1-36, January.
    4. Eisenberg, Theodore, et al, 1997. "The Predictability of Punitive Damages," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 26(2), pages 623-661, June.
    5. Viscusi, W Kip & Moore, Michael J, 1993. "Product Liability, Research and Development, and Innovation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 101(1), pages 161-184, February.
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