Over-Incarceration and Disenfranchisement with Population Growth
14 Pages Posted: 2 Nov 2016 Last revised: 24 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 23, 2017
Disenfranchisement laws in many states prohibit convicted felons from voting. The removal of ex-convicts from the pool of eligible voters reduces the pressure politicians may otherwise face to protect the interests of this group. In particular, disenfranchisement laws may cause the political process to push the sentences for criminal offenses upwards. In this article, I construct a simple model with elected law enforcers who propose sentences to maximize their likelihood of election. I show, with the help of the median voter theorem, that even without disenfranchisement, elections typically generate over-incarceration, i.e. longer than optimal sentences. Disenfranchisement further widens the gap between the optimal sentence and the equilibrium sentence, and thereby exacerbates the problem of over-incarceration. Moreover, this result is valid even when voter turnout is negatively correlated with people's criminal tendencies, i.e. when criminals vote less frequently than non-criminals.
Keywords: disenfranchisement, over-incarceration, mass incarceration, imprisonment, crime and deterrence, median voter theorem
JEL Classification: D70, D72, K00, K14, K42, P48
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation