How do State Crime Policies Affect Other States? The Externalities of State DNA Database Laws

22 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2017

See all articles by Jennifer L. Doleac

Jennifer L. Doleac

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics

Date Written: December 1, 2016


State and local governments control most criminal justice policy in the United States, without regard for potential effects on other states. Lenient state policies might draw in criminals from other states, whereas harsh state policies might drive criminals away to other states. Alternatively, harsh policies might deter or incapacitate criminals who would otherwise migrate to neighboring states and commit crimes there. Thus the effects of a state’s policies extend beyond its borders, but these effects could be positive or negative. This paper estimates the externalities of DNA databases. I exploit variation in the timing of database expansions as exogenous shocks to the sizes of state databases, to measure the cross-state effect of database size. The federal government seems to think externalities are positive, since it subsidizes state-level database expansions. I find instead that externalities are negative: increasing the number of other-state profiles increases own-state crime, so that approximately 10 percent of DNA databases’ crime-reducing effect is due to states’ displacing crime to other states. Effects are larger for nearby states. This result is consistent with the hypothesis that offenders respond rationally to state policies by moving to places where they are less likely to get caught for their crimes.

Keywords: DNA databases, CODIS, displacement, externalities

JEL Classification: K42, H7

Suggested Citation

Doleac, Jennifer L., How do State Crime Policies Affect Other States? The Externalities of State DNA Database Laws (December 1, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Jennifer L. Doleac (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University - Department of Economics ( email )

5201 University Blvd.
College Station, TX 77843-4228
United States


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