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Institutional Requirements for Effective Imposition of Fines

In: Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs


  • Anne Morrison Piehl
  • Geoffrey Williams


A long theoretical literature in economics addresses the heavy reliance of the U.S. criminal justice system on very expensive forms of punishment - prison - when cheaper alternatives - such as fines and other sanctions - are available. This paper analyzes the role of fines as a criminal sanction within the existing institutional structure of criminal justice agencies, modeling heterogeneity in how people respond to various sanctions and threat of sanctions. From research on the application of fines in the U.S., we conclude that fines are economical only in relation to other forms of punishment; for many crimes fines will work well for the majority of offenders but fail miserably for a significant minority; that fines present a number of very significant administrative challenges; and that the political economy of fine imposition and collection is complex. Despite these facts, and with the caveats that jurisdictions vary tremendously and that there are large gaps in our knowledge about them, we build a model showing that it is possible to expand the use of fines as a criminal sanction if institutional structures are developed with these concerns in mind.
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Suggested Citation

  • Anne Morrison Piehl & Geoffrey Williams, 2010. "Institutional Requirements for Effective Imposition of Fines," NBER Chapters,in: Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs, pages 95-121 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:12082

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Garoupa, Nuno, 2001. "Optimal magnitude and probability of fines," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(9), pages 1765-1771, October.
    2. John H. Tyler & Jeffrey R. Kling, 2004. "Prison-Based Education and Re-Entry into the Mainstream Labor Market," Working Papers 12, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    3. Piehl, Anne Morrison, 2002. "From Cell to Street: A Plan to Supervise Inmates after Release," Working Paper Series rwp02-005, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
    4. Garoupa, Nuno, 1997. " The Theory of Optimal Law Enforcement," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(3), pages 267-295, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Friehe, Tim & Tabbach, Avraham, 2013. "Preventive enforcement," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 35(C), pages 1-12.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law


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