Rational Suicides: Evidence from Changes in Inmates' Expected Sentence Length
Are suicides rational? At least since the 70's economists have been trying to shed light on this question by studying whether suicide rates are related to contemporaneous economic conditions. This paper goes one step further: we test whether suicides are linked to forward-looking behavior. In Italy, collective sentence reductions (pardons) often lead to massive releases of prisoners. More importantly, they are usually preceded by prolonged parliamentary activity (legislative proposals, discussion, voting, etc.) that inmates seem to follow closely. We use the legislative proposals for collective pardons to measure changes in the inmates' expectations about their date of release, and find that suicide rates tend to be significantly lower when pardons are proposed in congress. This suggests that, amongst inmates in Italian prisons, the average decision to commit suicide has a rational component.
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