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The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance

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  • Edward L. Glaeser
  • Bruce Sacerdote

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote, 2000. "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance," NBER Working Papers 7676, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7676
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    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. George J. Stigler, 1974. "The Optimum Enforcement of Laws," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 55-67 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Levitt, Steven D, 1997. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 270-290, June.
    5. Bentham, Jeremy, 1781. "An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number bentham1781.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Mariana Martínez & Fabio Sánchez T. & Holly Kosiewicz, 2007. "Is justice blind? An examination of disparities in homicide sentencing in Colombia, 1980-2000," DOCUMENTOS CEDE 004460, UNIVERSIDAD DE LOS ANDES-CEDE.
    2. repec:ksa:szemle:1758 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Seidl, Christian & Traub, Stefan & Morone, Andrea, 2003. "Relative Deprivation, Personal Income Satisfaction, and Average Well-Being under Different Income Distributions," Economics Working Papers 2003-05, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Department of Economics.
    4. Nicolas Baumard, 2011. "Punishment is not a group adaptation," Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Springer;Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 10(1), pages 1-26, June.
    5. Jeffrey D. Kubik & John R. Moran, 2001. "Lethal Elections: Gubernatorial Politics and the Timing of Executions," Center for Policy Research Working Papers 40, Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School, Syracuse University.
    6. David S. Lee & Justin McCrary, 2005. "Crime, Punishment, and Myopia," NBER Working Papers 11491, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Di Tella, Rafael & Dubra, Juan, 2008. "Crime and punishment in the "American Dream"," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(7), pages 1564-1584, July.
    8. Ann Dryden Witte & Robert Witt, 2001. "What We Spend and What We Get: Public and Private Provision of Crime Prevention," NBER Working Papers 8204, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Parikshit Ghosh, 2009. "Making the Punishment Fit the Crime or Taliban Justice? Optimal Penalties Without Commitment," Working papers 175, Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics.
    10. Edward L. Glaeser, 2002. "The Political Economy of Hatred," NBER Working Papers 9171, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Goodman, John C. & Porter, Philip, 2002. "Is the criminal justice system just?," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(1), pages 25-39, July.

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