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An Institutionalization Effect: The Impact of Mental Hospitalization and Imprisonment on Homicide in the United States, 1934-2001


Bernard E. Harcourt


Columbia University

March 1, 2007

Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 40, 2011
University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 335
University of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 155

Abstract:     
Previous research overwhelmingly shows that incarceration led to lower rates of violent crime during the 1990s, but finds no evidence of an effect prior to 1991. This raises what Steven Levitt calls “a real puzzle.” This study offers the solution to that puzzle: the fatal error with prior research is that it used exclusively rates of imprisonment, rather than a measure that combines institutionalization in both prisons and mental hospitals. Using state-level panel data regressions over the period 1934-2001, and controlling for demographic, economic, and criminal justice variables, this study finds a large, robust, and statistically significant relationship between aggregated institutionalization and homicide rates, providing strong evidence of what should now be called an institutionalization effect (rather than merely an incapacitation effect).

Number of Pages in PDF File: 68

Keywords: prison population, mental hospital population, state-level data, mental hospitalization, asylum, mental illness, institutionalization, incarceration, incapacitation, deterrence, incarceration revolution, punishment theory, homicide, structural covariates of homicide, unemployment, executions

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Date posted: March 21, 2007 ; Last revised: November 7, 2011

Suggested Citation

Harcourt, Bernard E., An Institutionalization Effect: The Impact of Mental Hospitalization and Imprisonment on Homicide in the United States, 1934-2001 (March 1, 2007). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 40, 2011; University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 335; University of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 155. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=970341 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.970341

Contact Information

Bernard E. Harcourt (Contact Author)
Columbia University ( email )
Jerome Green Hall, Room 515
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/fac/Bernard_Harcourt
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