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September 29, 2009

Notable empirical examination of truth-in-sentencing laws in operation

I just noticed on SSRN this article by two European economists titled "Responses to More Severe Punishment in the Courtroom: Evidence from Truth-in-Sentencing Laws." Here is the abstract:

We investigate behavioral responses of agents in the criminal process to more severe punishments by analyzing the effects of Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) laws in a large sample of individual criminal cases.  The TIS laws raised the effective punishment by requiring offenders to serve at least 85% of their sentence in prison. Differences between the U.S. states in the timing of adoption and the types of crimes covered provide a source of identification.  The TIS laws increased the likelihood that the defendant would be acquitted or the case would be dismissed. The prosecutors responded by offering less advantageous concessions in plea bargaining -- they became less likely to reduce the charges and the defendants in turn became less likely to plead guilty.  The expected sentence for an arrested offender declined by more than 10% through a combination of changes in the probability of conviction and the sentence imposed upon conviction.  The potential deterrent effect of the TIS laws was therefore partially mitigated by the behavioral responses.

September 29, 2009 at 08:59 AM | Permalink

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