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The Deterrent Effects of Prison: Evidence from a Natural Experiment

  • Drago, Francesco
  • Galbiati, Roberto
  • Vertova, Pietro

In this paper we test for the theory of deterrence. We exploit the natural experiment provided by the Collective Clemency Bill passed by the Italian Parliament in July 2006. As a consequence of the provisions of the bill, expected punishment to former inmates recommitting a crime can be considered as good as randomly assigned. Based on a unique data set on post-release behaviour of former inmates, we find that an additional month in expected sentence reduces the propensity to recommit a crime by 1.24 percent: this corroborates the general deterrence hypothesis. However, this effect depends on the time previously served in prison: the behavioural response to an additional month of expected sentence decreases with the length of the prison spell. This second result can be hardly reconciled with the specific deterrence hypothesis according to which a stronger past experience of punishment should increase the sensitivity to future expected sanctions.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6401.

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Date of creation: Jul 2007
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:6401
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  1. Steven D. Levitt, 1996. "The Effect of Prison Population Size on Crime Rates: Evidence from Prison Overcrowding Litigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 319-351.
  2. 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).
  3. Jeffrey R. Kling, 2006. "Incarceration Length, Employment, and Earnings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(3), pages 863-876, June.
  4. Jesse M. Shapiro, 2007. "Do Harsher Prison Conditions Reduce Recidivism? A Discontinuity-based Approach," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 9(1), pages 1-29.
  5. Edward C. Norton & Hua Wang & Chunrong Ai, 2004. "Computing interaction effects and standard errors in logit and probit models," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 4(2), pages 154-167, June.
  6. Levitt, Steven D, 1998. "Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(3), pages 353-72, July.
  7. Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson & David Pozen, 2009. "Building Criminal Capital behind Bars: Peer Effects in Juvenile Corrections," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(1), pages 105-147.
  8. 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.
  9. Eric Helland & Alexander Tabarrok, 2007. "Does Three Strikes Deter?: A Nonparametric Estimation," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(2).
  10. Kessler, Daniel P & Levitt, Steven D, 1999. "Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(1), pages 343-63, April.
  11. Ilyana Kuziemko, 2007. "Going Off Parole: How the Elimination of Discretionary Prison Release Affects the Social Cost of Crime," NBER Working Papers 13380, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. 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.
  13. Emily G. Owens, 2009. "More Time, Less Crime? Estimating the Incapacitative Effect of Sentence Enhancements," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 52(3), pages 551-579, 08.
  14. Levitt, Steven D. & Miles, Thomas J., 2007. "Empirical Study of Criminal Punishment," Handbook of Law and Economics, Elsevier.
  15. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-65, May-June.
  16. David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2005. "Crime, Punishment, and Myopia," NBER Working Papers 11491, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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