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Framing Punishment: Incarceration, Recommended Sentences, and Recidivism

Shawn D. Bushway and Emily Owens ()

Journal of Law and Economics, 2013, vol. 56, issue 2, 301 - 331

Abstract: No consensus has emerged about how, or even if, incarceration affects the behavior of convicted offenders. One unexplored mechanism involves the possibility that the disutility of punishment is affected by both the actual punishment an offender receives and the sentence that he thinks could have been given, a psychological effect known as framing. We test for framing effects in punishment by exploiting a legal change in Maryland that altered recommended, but not actual, sentences for a subset of offenders. Using an individual-level data set of convictions, incarceration, and arrests, we find that longer recommended sentences are associated with higher rates of recidivism, conditional on actual punishment. Our results suggest that large discrepancies between the "bark" and "bite" of the criminal justice system may make incarceration less effective at reducing crime.

Date: 2013
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