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Deterrence and Incapacitation: Towards a Unified Theory of Criminal Punishment


  • Thomas J. Miceli

    (University of Connecticut)


Economic models of crime have focused primarily on the goal of deterrence; the goal of incapacitation has received much less attention. This paper adapts the standard deterrence model to incorporate incapacitation. When prison only is used, incapacitation can result in a longer or a shorter optimal prison term compared to the deterrence-only model. It is longer if there is underdeterrence, and shorter if there is overdeterrence. In contrast, when a fine is available and it is not constrained by the offender's wealth, the optimal prison term is zero. Since the fine achieves first-best deterrence, only efficient crimes are committed and hence, there is no gain from incapacitation.

Suggested Citation

  • Thomas J. Miceli, 2009. "Deterrence and Incapacitation: Towards a Unified Theory of Criminal Punishment," Working papers 2009-11, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2009-11

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    More about this item


    Career criminals; deterrence; incapacitation; law enforcement;

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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