Positive Sanctions versus Imprisonment

24 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2019

See all articles by Murat C. Mungan

Murat C. Mungan

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: January 17, 2019

Abstract

This article considers the possibility of simultaneously reducing crime, prison sentences, and the tax burden of Â…financing the criminal justice system by introducing positive sanctions, which are benefits conferred to individuals who refrain from committing crime. Specifically, it proposes a procedure wherein a part of the imprisonment budget is re-directed towards financing positive sanctions. The feasibility of reducing crime, sentences, and taxes through such reallocations depends on how effectively the marginal imprisonment sentence reduces crime, the crime rate, the effectiveness of positive sanctions, and how accurately the government can direct positive sanctions towards individuals who are most responsive to such policies. The article then highlights an advantage of positive sanctions over imprisonment in deterring criminal behavior: positive sanctions operate by transferring or creating wealth, whereas imprisonment operates by destroying wealth. Thus, the conditions under which positive sanctions are optimal are broader than those under which they can be used to jointly reduce crime, sentences, and taxes. The analysis reveals that when the budget for the criminal justice system is exogenously given, it is optimal to use positive sanctions when the imprisonment elasticity of deterrence is small, which is a condition that is consistent with the empirical literature. When the budget for the criminal justice system is endogenously determined, it is optimal to use positive sanctions as long as the marginal cost of public funds is not high.

Keywords: Positive sanctions, carrots, sticks, crime, deterrence, imprisonment, mass incarceration, over-incarceration

JEL Classification: K00, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Mungan, Murat C., Positive Sanctions versus Imprisonment (January 17, 2019). George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 19-03. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3317552 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3317552

Murat C. Mungan (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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