The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance

32 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2000

See all articles by Edward L. Glaeser

Edward L. Glaeser

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Bruce Sacerdote

Dartmouth College - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: April 2000

Abstract

Does the economic model of optimal punishment explain the variation in the sentencing of murderers? As the model predicts, we find that murderers with a high expected probability of recidivism receive longer sentences. Sentences are longest in murder types where apprehension rates are low, and where deterrence elasticities appear to be high. However, sentences respond to victim characteristics in a way that is hard to reconcile with optimal punishment. In particular, victim characteristics are important determinants of sentencing among vehicular homicides, where victims are basically random and where the optimal punishment model predicts that victim characteristics should be ignored. Among vehicular homicides, drivers who kill women get 56 percent longer sentences. Drivers who kill blacks get 53 percent shorter sentences.

Suggested Citation

Glaeser, Edward L. and Sacerdote, Bruce, The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance (April 2000). Harvard Institute of Economic Research Paper No. 1894. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=236443 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.236443

Edward L. Glaeser (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Bruce Sacerdote

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