Are Fines and Prison Terms Used Efficiently? Evidence on Federal Fraud Offenders
Optimal penalty theory predicts that, because imprisonment is costly and fines are costless, fines will be used to the maximum extent possible before they are supplemented with imprisonment. If criminal procedure functions as a market system, as some observers have suggested, then optimizing models of sanctions may be viewed as positive and not just normative descriptions of criminal sentencing. This article examines the use of fines and prison terms to punish federal fraud offenders. We find that prison terms depend strongly and positively on harms, while fines depend strongly and positively on ability to pay. In addition, individuals punished with higher fines receive shorter prison terms, a finding that supports efficient punishment over some of its alternatives. These results demonstrate optimizing tendencies in sentencing, even if not optimality itself. Copyright 1995 by the University of Chicago.
References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Polinsky, A Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1991.
"A Note on Optimal Fines When Wealth Varies among Individuals,"
American Economic Review,
American Economic Association, vol. 81(3), pages 618-621, June.
- A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1990. "A Note on Optimal Fines When Wealth Varies Among Individuals," NBER Working Papers 3232, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1982.
"The Optimal Use of Fines and Imprisonment,"
NBER Working Papers
0932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Lott, John R, Jr, 1992. "Do We Punish High Income Criminals Too Heavily?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 30(4), pages 583-608, October.
- Shavell, Steven, 1991.
"Specific versus General Enforcement of Law,"
Journal of Political Economy,
University of Chicago Press, vol. 99(5), pages 1088-1108, October.
- Polinsky, Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1979. "The Optimal Tradeoff between the Probability and Magnitude of Fines," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(5), pages 880-891, December.
When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:38:y:1995:i:1:p:107-39. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Journals Division)
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.