Optimal Imprisonment with General Enforcement of Law

Massimo D'Antoni (Università di Siena)
Tim Friehe (University of Marburg)
Avraham Tabbach (Tel-Aviv University)


We study the optimal use of imprisonment when enforcement efforts are general (i.e., when effort increases the detection probability for a range of acts). In contrast to the conventional wisdom that optimal imprisonment rises with the act's harmfulness and is equal to the maximum level only for the most harmful acts, we show that - when the distribution of criminal benefits exhibits a standard monotone hazard rate - optimal imprisonment can only be zero or maximal. Thus, having general as opposed to specific enforcement effort does not alter the fact that only extreme sanction levels should optimally be employed.

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