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Do Sentencing Guidelines Raise the Cost of Punishment?

Author

Listed:
  • Jose Meade
  • Joel Waldfogel

Abstract

When judges have discretion over fines and prison terms, sentencing exhibits a tendency" toward efficiency: fines are larger, and prison terms shorter, for offenders with greater ability to" pay. Sentencing guidelines place fairly rigid upper and lower limits on fines and prison terms" and may inhibit the achievement of efficiency in sentencing. Preventing judges from substituting" fines for prison terms may raise the cost of imposing punishment. The objective of this paper is" to measure the efficiency cost of sentencing guidelines using data on federal offenders sentenced" under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. We find evidence that the guidelines raise the cost of" punishment by nearly 5 percent of the total imprisonment cost of federal offenders. Not" surprisingly, constraints on cost minimization raise costs.

Suggested Citation

  • Jose Meade & Joel Waldfogel, 1998. "Do Sentencing Guidelines Raise the Cost of Punishment?," NBER Working Papers 6361, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6361
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    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w6361.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Waldfogel, Joel, 1995. "Are Fines and Prison Terms Used Efficiently? Evidence on Federal Fraud Offenders," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(1), pages 107-139, April.
    2. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1984. "The optimal use of fines and imprisonment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 89-99, June.
    3. Lott, John R, Jr, 1987. "Should the Wealthy Be Able to "Buy Justice"?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(6), pages 1307-1316, December.
    4. Waldfogel, Joel, 1993. "Criminal Sentences as Endogenous Taxes: Are They "Just" or "Efficient"?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 139-151, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Mustard, David B, 2001. "Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the U.S. Federal Courts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(1), pages 285-314, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General

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