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Making the Punishment Fit the Crime or Taliban Justice? Optimal Penalties Without Commitment

  • Parikshit Ghosh

    (Department of Economics, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi, India)

This paper argues that graduated penalties observed in most legal systems may be an attempt to direct law enforcement e orts towards crimes that are socially more harmful, thereby achieving better deterrence overall. The critical assumptions are-- the state cannot commit to a monitoring strategy, and has mixed motives (objectives other than deterrence). However, graduated penalties arise only in the presence of secondary motives that value punishment in itself, such as retribution or nes collected from violators. Other motives that are unrelated to the size of punishment, such as prevention of criminal attempts, will also lead to distortions, but those cannot be corrected by restructuring penalties. The overall harshness of a criminal justice system and the retributive instincts of its designers may be related in counter intuitive ways, and law enforcement may be improved through strategic delegation.

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Paper provided by Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics in its series Working papers with number 175.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: Apr 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cde:cdewps:175
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  1. Chaim Fershtman & Kenneth L Judd, 1984. "Equilibrium Incentives in Oligopoly," Discussion Papers 642, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  2. Gary S. Becker & George J. Stigler, 1974. "Law Enforcement, Malfeasance, and Compensation of Enforcers," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 3(1), pages 1-18, January.
  3. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters, in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. repec:att:wimass:8908 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Isaac Ehrlich, 1996. "Crime, Punishment, and the Market for Offenses," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 43-67, Winter.
  6. Mookherjee, Dilip & Png, I P L, 1994. "Marginal Deterrence in Enforcement of Law," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(5), pages 1039-66, October.
  7. Rafael Di Tella & Ernesto Schargrodsky, 2004. "Do Police Reduce Crime? Estimates Using the Allocation of Police Forces After a Terrorist Attack," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 115-133, March.
  8. Sunstein, Cass R & Schkade, David A & Kahneman, Daniel, 2000. "Do People Want Optimal Deterrence?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 237-53, January.
  9. Shavell, Steven, 1992. "A note on marginal deterrence," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 345-355, September.
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  12. Garoupa, Nuno, 1997. " The Theory of Optimal Law Enforcement," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 11(3), pages 267-95, September.
  13. Arun S. Malik, 1990. "Avoidance, Screening and Optimum Enforcement," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(3), pages 341-353, Autumn.
  14. Bebchuk, Lucian Arye & Kaplow, Louis, 1993. "Optimal sanctions and differences in individuals' likelihood of avoiding detection," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 217-224, June.
  15. Levitt, Steven D, 1997. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 270-90, June.
  16. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2000. "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance," NBER Working Papers 7676, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. M. Grubb, 2003. "Editorial," Climate Policy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 3(3), pages 189-190, September.
  18. Fahad Khalil, 1997. "Auditing Without Commitment," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 28(4), pages 629-640, Winter.
  19. Nicola Persico, 2002. "Racial Profiling, Fairness, and Effectiveness of Policing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1472-1497, December.
  20. Wilde, Louis L., 1992. "Criminal choice, nonmonetary sanctions and marginal deterrence: A normative analysis," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 333-344, September.
  21. James Andreoni, 1991. "Reasonable Doubt and the Optimal Magnitude of Fines: Should the Penalty Fit the Crime?," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(3), pages 385-395, Autumn.
  22. Steven Shavell, 1989. "Specific Versus General Enforcement of Law," NBER Working Papers 3062, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  23. Polinsky, Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1979. "The Optimal Tradeoff between the Probability and Magnitude of Fines," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 69(5), pages 880-91, December.
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