How Punishment Affects Crime: An Integrated Understanding of the Behavioral Mechanisms of Punishment

Malouke Kuiper, Benjamin van Rooij, Alexis Piquero

Research output: Working paperAcademic

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Legal punishment, at least in part, serves a behavioral function to reduce and prevent offending behavior. The present paper offers an integrated review of the diverse mechanisms through which punishment may affect such behavior. It moves beyond a legal view that focuses on just three such mechanisms (deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation), to also include other socializing, delegitimizing, compliance obstructing, and offence adapting mechanisms in how punishment may influence offending. The paper assesses the quality of existing empirical knowledge about the different effects of punishment and the conditions under which these effects exist. It concludes that punishment has at least thirteen different influences on crime prevention, five positive and eight negative. It shows that such effects are conditional, depending on the offender, offence, punishment, and jurisdiction. Furthermore, it shows that the effects vary in their directness, proximity, onset and longevity. It concludes that our current empirical understanding does not match the complex reality of how punishment comes to shape crime. In light of this, the paper develops a research agenda on the integrated effects of punishment moving beyond limited causal mechanisms to embrace the fuller complexity of how sanctions shape human conduct by adopting a complexity science approach.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

JEL Classification: k14, k42

UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper Forthcoming
Amsterdam Law School Research Paper No. 2024-13

Research programs

  • SAI 2005-04 MSS


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