The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

778. Holger Spamann, The US Crime Puzzle: A Comparative Perspective on US Crime & Punishment, 07/2014; forthcoming in American Law and Economics Review, Vol. 17 (Fall 2015).

Abstract: This paper compares actual US crime and incarceration rates to predicted rates from cross-country regressions. Global cross-country regressions of crime and incarceration on background characteristics explain much of the variation between other countries. But the estimated models predict only one-fourth of US incarceration and not all of US crime. The coincidence of the non-negative US crime residuals with the very large positive US incarceration residual constitutes a puzzle. The two pieces fit together only if the residual US incarceration does not contribute to a reduction in crime, except to the extent an omitted criminogenic factor pushes up US crime. The paper quantifies this relationship. Drawing on additional evidence from comparative and US-specific data, it argues that the puzzle's most plausible solution combines low effectiveness of mass incarceration with omitted criminogenic factors such as neighborhood segregation.

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