An Institutionalization Effect: The Impact of Mental Hospitalization and Imprisonment on Homicide in the United States, 1934-2001

68 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2007 Last revised: 7 Nov 2011

Bernard E. Harcourt

Columbia University; Columbia University

Date Written: March 1, 2007

Abstract

Previous research overwhelmingly shows that incarceration led to lower rates of violent crime during the 1990s, but finds no evidence of an effect prior to 1991. This raises what Steven Levitt calls “a real puzzle.” This study offers the solution to that puzzle: the fatal error with prior research is that it used exclusively rates of imprisonment, rather than a measure that combines institutionalization in both prisons and mental hospitals. Using state-level panel data regressions over the period 1934-2001, and controlling for demographic, economic, and criminal justice variables, this study finds a large, robust, and statistically significant relationship between aggregated institutionalization and homicide rates, providing strong evidence of what should now be called an institutionalization effect (rather than merely an incapacitation effect).

Keywords: prison population, mental hospital population, state-level data, mental hospitalization, asylum, mental illness, institutionalization, incarceration, incapacitation, deterrence, incarceration revolution, punishment theory, homicide, structural covariates of homicide, unemployment, executions

Suggested Citation

Harcourt, Bernard E., An Institutionalization Effect: The Impact of Mental Hospitalization and Imprisonment on Homicide in the United States, 1934-2001 (March 1, 2007). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 40, 2011; University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 335; University of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 155. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=970341 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.970341

Bernard E. Harcourt (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

Jerome Green Hall, Room 515
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New York, NY 10027
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/fac/Bernard_Harcourt

Columbia University ( email )

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420 W. 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

HOME PAGE: http://polisci.columbia.edu/people/profile/1685

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