Economics at your fingertips  

Marginal deterrence at work

Rosario Crinò, Giovanni Immordino () and Salvatore Piccolo

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2019, vol. 166, issue C, 586-612

Abstract: The marginal deterrence principle of law enforcement implies that penalties must be scaled according to the severity of crimes, in order to deter individuals from committing more severe offenses. In this paper, we test whether the US legal system is consistent with the rational economic model of marginal deterrence. To this purpose, we use novel and unique data on sentence length for a large sample of inmates in US correctional facilities, combined with an official ranking of crimes by severity and with proxies for the maximum possible punishment and for the cost of monitoring criminals (specifically, the cost of policing) in each US state, over a period spanning up to 50 years. We find that sentences are on average longer in states where maximum punishment is higher and monitoring cost is lower. We document that these relations are systematically stronger in states where the private benefits from crime are more heterogeneous. Finally, we show that sanctions increase relatively faster with the severity of crimes in states with higher maximum punishment and lower monitoring cost. Overall, these results point to the rational economic model of marginal deterrence as providing a reasonable description of the actual enforcement policies chosen by regulators.

Keywords: Enforcement policies; Maximum punishment; Monitoring cost; Individual-Level data (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: K14 K40 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
References: View references in EconPapers View complete reference list from CitEc
Citations: Track citations by RSS feed

Downloads: (external link)
Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

Related works:
Working Paper: Marginal Deterrence at Work (2017) Downloads
Working Paper: Marginal Deterrence at Work (2017) Downloads
This item may be available elsewhere in EconPapers: Search for items with the same title.

Export reference: BibTeX RIS (EndNote, ProCite, RefMan) HTML/Text

Persistent link:

DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2019.08.003

Access Statistics for this article

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization is currently edited by Houser, D. and Puzzello, D.

More articles in Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization from Elsevier
Bibliographic data for series maintained by Dana Niculescu ().

Page updated 2020-04-06
Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:166:y:2019:i:c:p:586-612