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More Time, Less Crime? Estimating the Incapacitative Effect of Sentence Enhancements

  • Emily G. Owens

Sentence enhancements may reduce crime both by deterring potential criminals and by incapacitating previous offenders, removing these possible recidivists from society for longer periods. I estimate the incapacitative effect of longer sentences by exploiting a 2001 change in Maryland's sentencing guidelines that reduced the sentences of 23-, 24-, and 25-year-olds with juvenile delinquent records by a mean of 222 days. I find that, during this sentence disenhancement, offenders were, on average, arrested for 2.8 criminal acts and were involved in 1.4-1.6 serious crimes per person during the period when they would have otherwise been incarcerated. Although my findings are significantly lower than previous estimates of incapacitation, I find that, on the margin, the social benefit of the crimes averted by incapacitation is slightly higher than the marginal cost to the state of imposing a 1-year sentence enhancement. (c) 2009 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

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File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/593141
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Article provided by University of Chicago Press in its journal The Journal of Law and Economics.

Volume (Year): 52 (2009)
Issue (Month): 3 (08)
Pages: 551-579

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Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:52:y:2009:i:3:p:551-579
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/JLE/

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  1. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1981. "On the Usefulness of Controlling Individuals: An Economic Analysis of Rehabilitation, Incapacitation, and Deterrence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 307-22, June.
  2. 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.
  3. Ilyana Kuziemko & Steven D. Levitt, 2001. "An Empirical Analysis of Imprisoning Drug Offenders," NBER Working Papers 8489, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Avi-Itzhak, Benjamin & Shinnar, Reuel, 1973. "Quantitative models in crime control," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 1(3), pages 185-217.
  5. Donohue, John J, III & Siegelman, Peter, 1998. "Allocating Resources among Prisons and Social Programs in the Battle against Crime," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 27(1), pages 1-43, January.
  6. Ai, Chunrong & Norton, Edward C., 2003. "Interaction terms in logit and probit models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 123-129, July.
  7. Devah Pager, 2003. "The mark of a criminal record," Natural Field Experiments 00319, The Field Experiments Website.
  8. John J. DiIulio, 1996. "Help Wanted: Economists, Crime and Public Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
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