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Does Longer Incarceration Deter or Incapacitate Crimes? New Evidence from Truth-in-Sentencing Reform


  • Wei Long

    () (Department of Economics, Tulane University)


This paper estimates how violent crimes respond to a policy change which requires violent offenders to serve a substantial proportion of their sentenced terms before being eligible to release to community supervision. Focusing on states with effective TIS laws which meet the federal 85 percent rule, we utilize the differences-in-differences design to investigate both deterrent and incapacitative effect of TIS on crimes. We observe statistically significant -7 percent deterrent effect of TIS on growth of violent crime two years after its passage. A series of placebo tests confirm the robustness of the estimates and inferences. In the long-run, additional incapacitative effect also becomes significant, making the treatment effect of TIS even greater in magnitude. Even though insignificant in the first two years after TIS was passed, growth of non-violent property crime rates decreases by 7 percent in the long-run in TIS states, indicating relative greater importance of incapacitative effect which locks up offenders who commit both types of crimes. A rough approximation shows that TIS is an economically efficient method to decrease crimes.

Suggested Citation

  • Wei Long, 2016. "Does Longer Incarceration Deter or Incapacitate Crimes? New Evidence from Truth-in-Sentencing Reform," Working Papers 1607, Tulane University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:tul:wpaper:1607

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    References listed on IDEAS

    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.
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    11. Shepherd, Joanna M, 2002. "Police, Prosecutors, Criminals, and Determinate Sentencing: The Truth about Truth-in-Sentencing Laws," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 45(2), pages 509-534, October.
    12. Abadie, Alberto & Diamond, Alexis & Hainmueller, Jens, 2010. "Synthetic Control Methods for Comparative Case Studies: Estimating the Effect of California’s Tobacco Control Program," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 105(490), pages 493-505.
    13. Cheng Cheng & Mark Hoekstra, 2013. "Does Strengthening Self-Defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence?:Evidence from Expansions to Castle Doctrine," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 48(3), pages 821-854.
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    More about this item


    Deterrence; incapacitation; Truth-in-Sentencing; violent crime rates.;

    JEL classification:

    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy
    • K49 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Other

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