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Crime, Punishment, and Myopia

  • David S. Lee
  • Justin McCrary
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    Economic theory predicts that increasing the severity of punishments will deter criminal behavior by raising the expected price of committing crime. This implicit price can be substantially raised by making prison sentences longer, but only if offenders' discount rates are relatively low. We use a large sample of felony arrests to measure the deterrence effect of criminal sanctions. We exploit the fact that young offenders are legally treated as adults--and face longer lengths of incarceration--the day they turn 18. Sufficiently patient individuals should therefore significantly lower their offending rates immediately upon turning 18. The small behavioral responses that we estimate suggest that potential offenders are extremely impatient, myopic, or both.

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    Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11491.

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    Date of creation: Jul 2005
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11491
    Note: LS
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    1. 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.
    2. Grogger, Jeffrey, 1995. "The Effect of Arrests on the Employment and Earnings of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(1), pages 51-71, February.
    3. Lance Lochner, 2004. "Education, Work, And Crime: A Human Capital Approach," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(3), pages 811-843, 08.
    4. Raphael, Steven & Winter-Ebmer, Rudolf, 1999. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," CEPR Discussion Papers 2129, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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    6. Daniel Kessler & Steven D. Levitt, 1998. "Using Sentence Enhancements to Distinguish between Deterrence and Incapacitation," NBER Working Papers 6484, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Brian A. Jacob & Lars Lefgren, 2003. "Are Idle Hands the Devil's Workshop? Incapacitation, Concentration, and Juvenile Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(5), pages 1560-1577, December.
    8. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 1996. "Why Is There More Crime in Cities?," NBER Working Papers 5430, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Lawrence Katz & Steven D. Levitt & Ellen Shustorovich, 2003. "Prison Conditions, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, vol. 5(2), pages 318-343, August.
    10. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    11. Levitt, Steven D, 1996. "The Effect of Prison Population Size on Crime Rates: Evidence from Prison Overcrowding Litigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(2), pages 319-51, May.
    12. Anne C. Case & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects of Family and Neighborhood on Disadvantaged Youths," NBER Working Papers 3705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. 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.
    14. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2000. "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1894, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    15. Alejandro Gaviria & Steven Raphael, 2001. "School-Based Peer Effects And Juvenile Behavior," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(2), pages 257-268, May.
    16. Jeffrey R. Kling & David Weiman & Bruce Western, 2001. "The Labor Market Consequences of Incarceration," Working Papers 829, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    17. 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.
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