Panel Paper: Sanction Intensity and Adolescent Rationality

Friday, July 20, 2018
Building 3, Room 209 (ITAM)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Nicholas B. Lovett and Yuhan Xue, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater

Economic theory has long and unambiguously posited that greater severity of criminal sanctions will reduce crime through a deterrence channel, yet clear empirical evidence has proven somewhat elusive. We address this issue by using administrative data from California that covers the universe of adult and juvenile crime and allows us to generate regression discontinuity estimates of the deterrent effect of increased criminal sanctions at the age of majority. Estimates suggest that the greater severity imposed upon adolescents at the age of majority deters violent crime by 10-12%. Results are robust to both global parametric and local non-parametric techniques under multiple specifications. Additionally, we measure the change in criminal sanctions and estimate an elasticity of crime with respect to sanction intensity. The elasticity ranges from -0.145 to -0.174. We extend our results to demographic sub-populations and find female offenders are more responsive than their male counterparts. Similarly, white and Asian offenders appear quite responsive while Hispanic offenders are slightly less responsive, conversely black adolescents appear substantially less responsive to changes in the severity of criminal sanctions.

Full Paper: