Monitoring, Punishment, Crime and Labor Market Outcomes in a Low-Crime Country: Evidence from Randomized and Natural Experiments in Sweden

Project leader

Funding source

Swedish Research Council - Vetenskapsrådet (VR)

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2016
End date: 31/12/2018
Funding: 3555000 SEK


Monitoring and imprisoning criminals may affect future crime rates, but this is hard to evaluate since changes in such government policies are often consequences of changes in crime. A recent econometric literature using exogenous variation addresses these problems. This literature which is published in top economic journals is manly based on US data, but it is not obvious that the results can be generalized since European and Swedish institutions are very different in terms of prison- and crime rates. This project contributes by analyzing novel Swedish randomized and natural experiments.

The project consists of two parts that are both empirical and theoretical. The first part deals with the effects of monitoring on crime. The first study evaluates recent reforms whereby the police in England, Wales and Sweden monitored prolific offenders. The second study uses the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris as a source of exogenous variation for patrolling police in Stockholm. The third analyzes the debated question who should pay for police at public events; the organizers or the tax payers, by examining how co-payments affect monitoring and crime in a formal model. We will evaluate the model in a natural experiment using data from the Swedish soccer league. In the fourth study we will randomize when and where different types of messages, such as “be aware of pickpockets”, are displayed in the Stockholm subway system to study their effect on crime. The papers on prolific offenders, paying for police, and messages in the subway are all to our knowledge the first of their kind in the literature.

In the last two studies we will analyze if and to what extent imprisonment deters crime. To identify causal links, studies have used experiment-like situations, i.e., exogenous variation in the prison sentence. For example, use has been made of the fact that sentences sometimes vary greatly, e.g. when an individual turns 18, or in situations in which changes in the system of criminal penalties occur randomly, such as the random release of prisoners or the random allocation of cases to judges who systematically hand down sentences of varying severity. Some of these studies find no or only minor deterrent effects from long sentences, whereas others show more significant effects. The preventive effects of tougher penalties can be divided up into general deterrence, i.e., the effect the punishment has on the inclination of the general public to commit crimes, and specific deterrence, i.e., the effect the punishment has on the convicted person’s inclination to commit new crimes. Even with this division there are no concordant results.

In the first study we address general deterrence by exploiting sharp differences in penalties in the Swedish judicial system at each birthday from the age of 16 to 21. Methodologically, this contributes to the literature since, in contrast to the US, other laws do not change at e.g. the 21th birthday in Sweden. The system also enables us to compare the effects on juveniles and adults. Finally, in the last study we analyze specific deterrence by using randomization of judges in the 1970s to study the long-term effects of having served time in prison on crime, health, and labor market outcomes. These long-term data are unique and do not exist for the US.

We already have access to data for the papers on prolific offenders, pay for police, and imprisonment, except for some lacking register data on general deterrence. Data on police and crime outside Jewish institutions and crime in the subway will be obtained from the Swedish Police. We will pursue the project in 2016 to 2018. Mikael Priks will co-author all papers. Stephen Machin and Olivier Marie will co-author the paper on prolific offenders, Sten Nyberg the paper on pay for police, and Björn Tyrefors Hinnerich the papers on imprisonment.

Last updated on 2017-07-06 at 13:38