Exploring Inmates’ Perceptions: Evidence from Czech Prisons

Michal Šoltés (Charles University)
Daniel L. Chen (Toulouse School of Economics)
Lubomír Cingl (Prague University of Economics and Business )
Arnaud Philippe (Bristol University)


We assess theories of criminal behavior using a large survey of Czech inmates. We measure perceived risk of sanctions, trust, social preferences, risk, and beliefs about post-release reintegration. We compare inmates' responses to those of the general population and students. We find that inmates tend to overestimate the risks of sanctions and have lower trust, both towards the justice system and the general population. They are also more generous, more risk-averse, and more optimistic about the position of just-released inmates in society. Perceived risk of sanctions, risk aversion, and reduced criminal identity are associated with less misbehavior in prison. These results are partly consistent with homo economicus theories of criminal behavior, theories linking criminal behavior to criminal identity, and behavioral extensions of homo economicus. Procedural justice theory would explain inmates' lower trust in the justice system but not the lack of correlation between trust and misbehavior.

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