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Allocating Resources among Prisons and Social Programs in the Battle against Crime


  • Donohue, John J, III
  • Siegelman, Peter


This article evaluates the cost and crime-reducing potential of prisons and social spending, setting forth the conditions under which a shift in resources from an expanding prison population into social spending would lead to a reduction in total crime. Preschool enrichment programs coupled with family intervention have generated impressive results in reducing crime in a number of different studies. Targeting of resources toward those children most at risk of criminal behavior is necessary to generate cost-effective crime reduction, but this may be difficult to achieve because of political or constitutional constraints. Given precise targeting, and if a broadly implemented preschool program (more enriched than the current Head Start program) could generate half the crime-reduction benefits achieved in the pilot studies, then cutting spending on prisons and using the savings to fund intensive preschool education would reduce crime. The elasticity of crime with be .15. Copyright 1998 by the University of Chicago.

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  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:v:27:y:1998:i:1:p:1-43

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Steven Shavell, 1981. "The Social versus the Private Incentive to Bring Suit in a Costly Legal System," NBER Working Papers 0741, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Hylton, Keith N., 1990. "The influence of litigation costs on deterrence under strict liability and under negligence," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 161-171, September.
    3. Png, I. P. L., 1987. "Litigation, liability, and incentives for care," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 61-85, October.
    4. Bebchuk, Lucian Arye, 1988. "Suing Solely to Extract a Settlement Offer," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 17(2), pages 437-450, June.
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