Crime versus Justice: Is There a Trade-Off?
When society is divided into two groups with different actual or perceived crime rates, maintaining a low crime rate, minimizing the total number of innocent individuals convicted of a crime, and keeping the probability of wrongly convicting an innocent individual equal across groups are incompatible social goals. This paper fully develops these trade-offs. An empirical application of the model finds that these tradeoffs may be substantial. Specifically, we estimate that innocent black Americans would be roughly eight times more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder than innocent white Americans if society placed no value on equality when it comes to convictions. However, we estimate that eliminating inequality entirely could cost up to 1,900 lives annually because of a rise in the murder rate. Estimates reveal similar findings for gender inequality. In highlighting this serious dilemma, this paper suggests a need for awareness of costs of crime-reduction policies. Copyright 2001 by the University of Chicago.
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