Crime and Punishment

In a blog post, Alex Tabarrok argues that Gary Becker was wrong to argue that an optimal punishment system combines a low detection and punishment risk with a very severe punishment conditional on detection. Tabarrok argues:

We have now tried that experiment and it didn’t work. Beginning in the 1980s we dramatically increased the punishment for crime in the United States but we did so more by increasing sentence length than by increasing the probability of being punished. …

Why did the experiment fail? Longer sentences didn’t reduce crime as much as expected because criminals aren’t good at thinking about the future; criminal types have problems forecasting and they have difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling their impulses. … As if that weren’t bad enough, by exposing more people to criminal peers and by making it increasingly difficult for felons to reintegrate into civil society, longer sentences increased recidivism.

Instead of thinking about criminals as rational actors, we should think about criminals as children. … So what is the recommended parenting approach? … one thing all recommendations have in common is that the consequences for inappropriate behavior should be be quick, clear, and consistent.