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The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance

  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Bruce Sacerdote

Does the economic model of optimal punishment explain the variation in the sentencing of murderers? As the model predicts, we find that murderers with a high expected probability of recidivism receive longer sentences. Sentences are longest in murder types where apprehension rates are low, and where deterrence elasticities appear to be high. However, sentences respond to victim characteristics in a way that is hard to reconcile with optimal punishment. In particular, victim characteristics are important determinants of sentencing among vehicular homicides, where victims are basically random and where the optimal punishment model predicts that victim characteristics should be ignored. Among vehicular homicides, drivers who kill women get 56 percent longer sentences. Drivers who kill blacks get 53 percent shorter sentences.

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File URL: ftp://ftp.repec.org/RePEc/fth/harver/hier1894.pdf
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Paper provided by Harvard - Institute of Economic Research in its series Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers with number 1894.

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Date of creation: 2000
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:fth:harver:1894
Contact details of provider: Postal: 200 Littauer Center, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone: 617-495-2144
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Web page: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/journals/hier

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  1. Steven D. Levitt, 1995. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Policeon Crime," NBER Working Papers 4991, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Stigler, George J, 1970. "The Optimum Enforcement of Laws," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(3), pages 526-36, May-June.
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