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Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation

  • Kessler, Daniel P
  • Levitt, Steven D

Differentiating empirically between deterrence and incapacitation is difficult since both are a function of expected punishment. In this article we demonstrate that the introduction of sentence enhancements provides a direct means of measuring deterrence. Because the criminal would have been sentenced to prison even without the law change, there is no additional incapacitation effect from the sentence enhancement in the short run. Therefore, any immediate decrease in crime must be due to deterrence. We test the model using California's Proposition 8, which imposed sentence enhancements for a selected group of crimes. Proposition 8 appears to reduce eligible crimes by 4 percent in the year following its passage and 8 percent 3 years after passage. These immediate effects are consistent with deterrence. The impact of the law continues to increase 5-7 years after its passage, suggesting that incapacitation may be important as well. Copyright 1999 by the University of Chicago.

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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal Journal of Law & Economics.

Volume (Year): 42 (1999)
Issue (Month): 1 (April)
Pages: 343-63

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:42:y:1999:i:1:p:343-63
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/

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  1. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-65, May-June.
  2. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1997. "On the Disutility and Discounting of Imprisonment and the Theory of Deterrence," NBER Working Papers 6259, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Isaac Ehrlich, 1996. "Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 43-67, Winter.
  4. A. Mitchell Polinsky & Steven Shavell, 1982. "The Optimal Use of Fines and Imprisonment," NBER Working Papers 0932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Kaplow, Louis & Shavell, Steven, 1994. "Optimal Law Enforcement with Self-Reporting of Behavior," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(3), pages 583-606, June.
  6. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-23.
  7. 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.
  8. Lott, John R, Jr, 1987. "Should the Wealthy Be Able to "Buy Justice"?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(6), pages 1307-16, December.
  9. Daniel P. Kessler & Anne Morrison Piehl, 1997. "The Role of Discretion in the Criminal Justice System," NBER Working Papers 6261, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. McCormick, Robert E & Tollison, Robert D, 1984. "Crime on the Court," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(2), pages 223-35, April.
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