NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Do Sentencing Guidelines Raise the Cost of Punishment?

Jose Meade, Joel Waldfogel

NBER Working Paper No. 6361
Issued in January 1998
NBER Program(s):   LE   PR

When judges have discretion over fines and prison terms, sentencing exhibits a tendency" toward efficiency: fines are larger, and prison terms shorter, for offenders with greater ability to" pay. Sentencing guidelines place fairly rigid upper and lower limits on fines and prison terms" and may inhibit the achievement of efficiency in sentencing. Preventing judges from substituting" fines for prison terms may raise the cost of imposing punishment. The objective of this paper is" to measure the efficiency cost of sentencing guidelines using data on federal offenders sentenced" under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. We find evidence that the guidelines raise the cost of" punishment by nearly 5 percent of the total imprisonment cost of federal offenders. Not" surprisingly, constraints on cost minimization raise costs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w6361

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