The Economic Perspective on Sentencing

23 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2015

See all articles by Joshua B. Fischman

Joshua B. Fischman

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: 2014


Although economists have been actively engaged in research on criminal sentencing, the synergies between the two fields are hardly obvious. This Essay considers what economists have to contribute to the study of sentencing. One common explanation — that economists’ use of rational choice modeling has applicability to the study of deterrence — does not adequately account for much of the sentencing research that economists are producing.

This Essay considers two alternative explanations. First, empirical research in both fields is predominately observational. Due to practical limits on controlled experimentation, economists have developed a variety of tools for making causal inferences from observational data, many of which have also proved useful in the study of criminal sentencing. Second, both fields are policy-oriented social sciences. Methods developed by economists for relating data to theoretical normative constructs, such as surplus and social welfare, have also proven useful in sentencing research, particularly in the study of inter judge disparity.

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Fischman, Joshua B., The Economic Perspective on Sentencing (2014). 46 Loyola University Chicago Law Journal 345 (2014), Available at SSRN:

Joshua B. Fischman (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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