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Crime versus Justice: Is There a Trade-Off?

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  • Farmer, Amy
  • Terrell, Dek

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Farmer, Amy & Terrell, Dek, 2001. "Crime versus Justice: Is There a Trade-Off?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(2), pages 345-366, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:44:y:2001:i:2:p:345-66
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/322816
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Steven D. Levitt, 1996. "The Effect of Prison Population Size on Crime Rates: Evidence from Prison Overcrowding Litigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 319-351.
    2. Timothy Feddersen & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 1996. "Convicting the Innocent: The Inferiority of Unanimous Jury Verdicts," Discussion Papers 1170, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
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    Cited by:

    1. David Bjerk, 2007. "Racial Profiling, Statistical Discrimination, and the Effect of a Colorblind Policy on the Crime Rate," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 9(3), pages 521-545, June.
    2. Lando Henrik, 2009. "Prevention of Crime and the Optimal Standard of Proof in Criminal Law," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 33-52, January.
    3. Fluet, Claude, 2010. "L’économie de la preuve judiciaire," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 86(4), pages 451-486, décembre.
    4. Marcel Fafchamps & Bart Minten, 2004. "Insecurity and welfare," CSAE Working Paper Series 2004-31, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    5. Howard Bodenhorn, 2008. "Criminal Sentencing in Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania," NBER Working Papers 14283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Derek Pyne, 2004. "Can Making It Harder to Convict Criminals Ever Reduce Crime?," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 18(2), pages 191-201, September.

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