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The Incapacitation Effect of Incarceration: Evidence From Several Italian Collective Pardons

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  • Alessandro Barbarino
  • Giovanni Mastrobuoni

Abstract

Incarceration of criminals reduces crime through two main channels, deterrence and incapac- itation. Because of a simultaneity between crime and incarceration–arrested criminals increase the prison population–it is difficult to measure these effects. This paper estimates the incapaci- tation effect on crime using a unique quasi-natural experiment, namely the recurrent collective pardoning between 1962 and 1995 of up to 35 percent of the Italian prison population. Since these pardons are enacted on a national level, unlike in Levitt (1996), we can control for the endogeneity of these laws that might be driven by criminals’ expectations: it is optimal to com- mit crimes shortly before a collective pardon gets enacted. This effect represents a deterrence effect, which, if not properly controlled for, would bias our IV estimates towards zero. The incapacitation effect is large and precisely estimated. The elasticity of crime with respect to prison population ranges, depending on the type of crime, between 0 and 49 percent. These numbers are increasing during our sample period, which suggests that habitual criminals are now more likely to be subject to pardons than in the past. A benefit-cost analysis suggests that pardons, seen as a short term solution to prison overcrowding, are inefficient.

Suggested Citation

  • Alessandro Barbarino & Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2007. "The Incapacitation Effect of Incarceration: Evidence From Several Italian Collective Pardons," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 55, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
  • Handle: RePEc:cca:wpaper:55
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Manudeep Bhuller & Gordon B. Dahl & Katrine V. Løken & Magne Mogstad, 2016. "Incarceration, Recidivism and Employment," NBER Working Papers 22648, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Christoph Engel, 2016. "Experimental Criminal Law. A Survey of Contributions from Law, Economics and Criminology," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_07, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    3. repec:clg:wpaper:2009-06 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2011. "Optimal Criminal Behavior and the Disutility of Jail: Theory and Evidence On Bank Robberies," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 220, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
    5. Giovanni Mastrobuoni & Paolo Pinotti, 2015. "Legal Status and the Criminal Activity of Immigrants," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 7(2), pages 175-206, April.
    6. repec:bla:ausecr:v:49:y:2016:i:4:p:515-523 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Munyo, Ignacio & Rossi, Martín A., 2015. "First-day criminal recidivism," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 81-90.
    8. Mueller-Smith, Michael & Schnepel, Kevin T., 2016. "Avoiding Convictions: Regression Discontinuity Evidence on Court Deferrals for First-Time Drug Offenders," IZA Discussion Papers 10409, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    9. Francesco Drago & Roberto Galbiati, 2012. "Indirect Effects of a Policy Altering Criminal Behavior: Evidence from the Italian Prison Experiment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(2), pages 199-218, April.
    10. Maurin, Eric & Ouss, Aurelie, 2009. "Sentence Reductions and Recidivism: Lessons from the Bastille Day Quasi Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 3990, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    11. Matteo Rizzolli, 2016. "Adjudication: Type-I and Type-II Errors," CERBE Working Papers wpC15, CERBE Center for Relationship Banking and Economics.
    12. Mueller-Smith, Michael & Schnepel, Kevin T., 2016. "Avoiding Convictions: Regression Discontinuity Evidence on Court Deferrals for First-Time Drug Offenders," Working Papers 2016-16, University of Sydney, School of Economics.
    13. repec:aea:aejpol:v:9:y:2017:i:2:p:1-27 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Gehrsitz, Markus, 2017. "Speeding, Punishment, and Recidivism: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity Design," IZA Discussion Papers 10707, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    15. Endres Alfred & Rundshagen Bianca, 2016. "Optimal Penalties for Repeat Offenders – The Role of Offence History," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 16(2), pages 545-578, June.
    16. Nadia Campaniello & Theodoros M. Diasakos & Giovanni Mastrobuoni, 2017. "Rationalizable Suicides: Evidence from Changes in Inmates’ Expected Length of Sentence," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 15(2), pages 388-428.
    17. Ater, Itai & Givati, Yehonatan & Rigbi, Oren, 2014. "Organizational structure, police activity and crime," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 62-71.
    18. Francesco Fasani, 2016. "Immigrant Crime and Legal Status: Evidence from Repeated Amnesty Programs," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 1621, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
    19. Magnus Lofstrom & Steven Raphael, 2016. "Crime, the Criminal Justice System, and Socioeconomic Inequality," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 30(2), pages 103-126, Spring.
    20. Mastrobuoni, Giovanni & Rivers, David A., 2016. "Criminal Discount Factors and Deterrence," IZA Discussion Papers 9769, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    21. Paolo Buonanno & Steven Raphael, 2013. "Incarceration and Incapacitation: Evidence from the 2006 Italian Collective Pardon," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2437-2465, October.
    22. O’Flaherty, Brendan & Sethi, Rajiv, 2015. "Urban Crime," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.
    23. Giovanni Mastrobuoni & Daniele Terlizzese, 2014. "Harsh or Human? Detention Conditions and Recidivism," EIEF Working Papers Series 1413, Einaudi Institute for Economics and Finance (EIEF), revised May 2018.
    24. Giovanni Mastrobuoni & Paolo Pinotti, 2014. "The Ups and Downs in Women's Employment: Shifting Composition or Behavior from 1970 to 2010?," Upjohn Working Papers and Journal Articles 14-212, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

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    Keywords

    Crime; Pardon; Amnesty; Deterrence; Incapacitation;

    JEL classification:

    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government

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