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Prison Population and Crime

45 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2009  

Thomas B. Marvell

Justec Research

Date Written: August 13, 2009


This is a critical review of the literature concerning the impact of prison populations on crime. It summarizes 44 time series studies that use prison population in the crime equation, emphasizing problems of simultaneity and disaggregation bias. It briefly reviews studies that estimate the incapacation impact of prisons by using criminals' individual crime rates, emphasizing problems caused by skewness of the crime rates and their relationship with arrest rates. Almost all the numerous problems with prior research bias results towards finding that prisons have limited impacts, and once the problems are addressed the best estimate of the elasticity of prison populations on crime is about 1.0.

Keywords: crime, prison, endogeneity

JEL Classification: C23, C33, K40

Suggested Citation

Marvell, Thomas B., Prison Population and Crime (August 13, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Thomas Marvell (Contact Author)

Justec Research ( email )

155 Ridings Cove
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States
757-229-9772 (Phone)

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