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Who gets caught? Statistical discrimination in law enforcement

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Abstract

Some people are more likely to be convicted of a crime than others. In this paper we explain why group characteristics, such as race or age, might influence individual probabilities of conviction. Our model is motivated by the simple observation that it is prohibitively costly to investigate every crime. Police and other enforcement agencies may rationally use "statistical discrimination" to minimize search costs. We test the model on a sample of Montreal youth, using information on self-reported juvenile delinquency to see if, controlling for the level of delinquent behavior, individuals’ characteristics have an independent effect on the probability of making a court appearance. We find that characteristics do indeed influence the probability of appearing in court, while a number of forms of delinquent activity have no or even negative impacts in court appearances.

Suggested Citation

  • Ambrose Leung & Frances Woolley & Richard E. Tremblay & Frank Vitaro, 2002. "Who gets caught? Statistical discrimination in law enforcement," Carleton Economic Papers 02-03, Carleton University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:car:carecp:02-03
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, 2001. "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(1), pages 203-232, February.
    2. Ambrose Leung, 2002. "Delinquency, Social Institutions, and Capital Accumulation," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 158(3), pages 420-420, September.
    3. Garoupa, Nuno, 2000. "The Economics of Organized Crime and Optimal Law Enforcement," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 38(2), pages 278-288, April.
    4. Weitzer, Ronald, 1996. "Racial discrimination in the criminal justice system: Findings and problems in the literature," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 24(4), pages 309-322.
    5. Phelps, Edmund S, 1972. "The Statistical Theory of Racism and Sexism," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 62(4), pages 659-661, September.
    6. Nicola Persico, 2002. "Racial Profiling, Fairness, and Effectiveness of Policing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1472-1497, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kwabena Gyimah-Brempong, 2007. "Crime and Race: A Plea for New Ideas," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 34(3), pages 173-185, December.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    crime; optimal law enforcement; discrimination;

    JEL classification:

    • K0 - Law and Economics - - General
    • J7 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination

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