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More Time, Less Crime? Estimating the Incapacitative Effect of Sentence Enhancements

Emily Owens ()

Journal of Law and Economics, 2009, vol. 52, issue 3, 551-579

Abstract: Sentence enhancements may reduce crime both by deterring potential criminals and by incapacitating previous offenders, removing these possible recidivists from society for longer periods. I estimate the incapacitative effect of longer sentences by exploiting a 2001 change in Maryland's sentencing guidelines that reduced the sentences of 23-, 24-, and 25-year-olds with juvenile delinquent records by a mean of 222 days. I find that, during this sentence disenhancement, offenders were, on average, arrested for 2.8 criminal acts and were involved in 1.4-1.6 serious crimes per person during the period when they would have otherwise been incarcerated. Although my findings are significantly lower than previous estimates of incapacitation, I find that, on the margin, the social benefit of the crimes averted by incapacitation is slightly higher than the marginal cost to the state of imposing a 1-year sentence enhancement. (c) 2009 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Date: 2009
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