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Crime, Punishment, and Myopia

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  • David S. Lee
  • Justin McCrary

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2005. "Crime, Punishment, and Myopia," NBER Working Papers 11491, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11491
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. Raphael, Steven & Winter-Ember, Rudolf, 2001. "Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 259-283, April.
    3. 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 343-363, April.
    4. 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.
    5. Matthew Rabin & Ted O'Donoghue, 1999. "Doing It Now or Later," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(1), pages 103-124, March.
    6. 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.
    7. Bruce Western & Jeffrey R. Kling & David F. Weiman, 2001. "The Labor Market Consequences of Incarceration," Working Papers 829, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    8. Jeffrey Grogger, 1995. "The Effect of Arrests on the Employment and Earnings of Young Men," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(1), pages 51-71.
    9. John J. Donohue III & Steven D. Levitt, 2001. "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(2), pages 379-420.
    10. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2000. "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance," NBER Working Papers 7676, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    12. 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.
    13. Case, A.C. & Katz, L.F., 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects Of Family And Neighborhood On Disadvantaged Younths," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1555, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
    14. 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.
    15. 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.
    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. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 1999. "Why Is There More Crime in Cities?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 107(S6), pages 225-258, December.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D9 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior

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