Research Handbook on the Economics of Criminal Law

Research Handbook on the Economics of Criminal Law

Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series

Edited by Alon Harel and Keith N. Hylton

Jeremy Bentham and Gary Becker established the tradition of analyzing criminal law in utilitarian and economic terms. This seminal book continues that tradition with specially commissioned, original papers that span the philosophical foundations of the use of economics in criminal law, both traditional economic perspectives and behavioral and experimental approaches to the discipline.

Chapter 10: Mobile Phones and Crime Deterrence: An Underappreciated Link

Jonathan Klick, John MacDonald and Thomas Stratmann

Subjects: economics and finance, law and economics, law - academic, criminal law and justice, law and economics


Jonathan Klick, John MacDonald, and Thomas Stratmann 1. INTRODUCTION The crime decline observed in the 1990s is remarkable. Between 1991 and 2001, crime rates dropped by about a one-third across all crime categories. Perhaps more notable, this decline was almost completely unforeseen. Given the sheer magnitude of this unpredicted decline, it is not surprising that finding explanations for it is a central focus of modern empirical crime scholarship. Explanations range from the intuitive – more cops equal less crime (e.g., Evans and Owens 2007) as does the greater use of prison (Spelman 2006), to the provocative – legalized abortion culls the population of potential criminals (Donohue and Levitt 2001), and everything in between. In an influential review of the topic, Levitt (2004) suggests that four factors, abortion legalization, increases in police forces, changes in the market for crack cocaine, and rising prison populations, account for virtually all the crime decline. Of these factors, Levitt and other scholars suggest prisons provide the largest contribution to the crime drop (Blumstein and Wallman 2000). However, Levitt notes a puzzle. Prison populations increased during the period 1973–1991. Based on the calculations he uses to analyse the 1991–2001 period, he would have predicted large crime rate declines in the earlier period too when, in fact, reported crime increased significantly in the 1970s and 1980s according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data. To some extent, concerns about reported property crime are mitigated when alternate self-report data are used. Crime rates documented using the National...

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