Crime and Punishment in Times of Pandemics

36 Pages Posted: 8 Jun 2020 Last revised: 5 May 2021

See all articles by Roee Sarel

Roee Sarel

Institute of Law and Economics, University of Hamburg

Date Written: June 12, 2020


How should we think about crime deterrence in times of pandemics? The economic analysis of crime tells us that potential offenders will compare the costs and the benefits from crime and from innocence and then choose whichever option that is more profitable. We must therefore ask ourselves how this comparison is affected by the outbreak of a pandemic and the policy changes which may accompany it, such as governmental restrictions, social distancing, and economic crises. Using insights from law and economics, this article investigates how the various components in the cost-benefit analysis of crime might change during a pandemic, focusing on COVID-19 as a test case. Building on classical theoretical models, existing empirical evidence, and behavioral aspects, the analysis reveals that there are many potentially countervailing effects on crime deterrence. The article thus highlights the need to carefully consider which aspects are applicable given the circumstances of the pandemic, as whether crime deterrence will increase or decrease should depend on the strength of the effects at play.

Keywords: law and economics, crime deterrence, pandemic, COVID-19, uncertainty, crisis

JEL Classification: K42, K14, D9, D81, I00

Suggested Citation

Sarel, Roee, Crime and Punishment in Times of Pandemics (June 12, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Roee Sarel (Contact Author)

Institute of Law and Economics, University of Hamburg ( email )

Johnsallee 35
Hamburg, 20148

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics