Positive Sanctions versus Imprisonment

32 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2019 Last revised: 9 Aug 2019

See all articles by Murat C. Mungan

Murat C. Mungan

Texas A&M University School of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 17, 2019


This article considers the possibility of simultaneously reducing crime, prison sentences, and the tax burden of financing the criminal justice system by introducing positive sanctions, which are benefits conferred to non-convicts. Specifically, it proposes a procedure wherein a part of the imprisonment budget is re-directed towards financing positive sanctions. The feasibility of this procedure 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. A subsequent welfare analysis reveals an advantage of positive sanctions: they operate by transferring or creating wealth, whereas imprisonment destroys 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. With an exogenous [resp. endogenous] budget for law enforcement, it is optimal to use positive sanctions when the imprisonment elasticity of deterrence is small [resp. the marginal cost of public funds is not high]. These conditions hold, implying that using positive sanctions is optimal, in numerical examples generated by using estimates for key values from the empirical literature.

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)

Texas A&M University School of Law

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States

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