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Deterrence and the Adjustment of Sentences During Imprisonment

Jul 2019
Working Paper
19-018
By  A. Mitchell Polinsky, Steven Shavell

The prison time actually served by a convicted criminal depends to a significant degree on decisions made by the state during the course of imprisonment — on whether to grant parole or other forms of sentence reduction. In this article we study a model of the adjustment of sentences assuming that the state’s objective is the optimal deterrence of crime. In the model, the state can lower or raise the sentence based on deterrence-relevant information that it obtains about a criminal during imprisonment. Our focus on sentence adjustment as a means of promoting deterrence stands in contrast to the usual emphasis in sentence adjustment policy on reducing recidivism.

Publication Keywords: 
Deterrence; imprisonment; sentence adjustment; sanctions; parole; recidivism