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It takes more than just police and prison

Consider a simple rational choice model below, in which an individual chooses to offend only if the net gains from offending is greater than the net gains from not offending:

\(\quad\quad\quad\quad\quad\quad\) \((1-p)u_{ s }+pu_{ f }\)>u̲

where \(u_s\) represents his gain when he successfully commits crime, \(u_f\) his loss when he commits crime and receives punishment, and p the probability of punishment. u̲ is his gain when he abstains from crime.

So far, we mainly focused on police and prison as two main crime-control tools. Clearly, they would directly affect individuals’ criminal choice by increasing \(u_f\) and \(p\). But it is also clear that the choice to offend or not should depend on other factors, such as the level of expected gain from successful crime (\(u_s\)) or the gain from staying out of crime (u̲).

This week, we will examine how effective crime-control policies may involve more than just law enforcement, judiciary, and correctional systems.

For example, most would agree that providing high-quality public education can potentially reduce problem behaviors of children and adolescents and reduce their subsequent criminal behaviors. Government regulations on alcohol and drug use may have important consequences on crimes such as drug trafficking and DUI. Public health and environmental policies may be also relevant to successful crime control.

Economist Jessica Reyes finds that the U.S. government regulation that eliminated lead from gasoline led to a significant reduction in violent crimes during the 1990s. (Childhood lead exposure is believed to increase children’s impulsiveness and aggressiveness.)

Can you think of other government policies that may “indirectly” affect crime?


  • Reyes, Jessica Wolpaw. “Environmental Policy as Social Policy? The Impact of Lead Exposure on Crime.” The BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 7.1 (2007).

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Economics of Crime

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