American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 530–550 | Cite as

Monetary Penalties and Noncompliance with Environmental Laws: a Mediation Analysis

  • Kimberly L. BarrettEmail author
  • Michael J. Lynch
  • Michael A. Long
  • Paul B. Stretesky


Studies that assess the impact of monetary penalties on environmental compliance have yielded mixed results. While some studies suggest fines deter future violations other studies find that fines do little to encourage compliance. This longitudinal study examines the impact of the dollar amount of fines on compliance with environmental laws among major facilities in the state of Michigan (n = 37). Results from a mediation analysis suggest that while noncompliance may slightly decrease immediately following a fine there are few changes to a firm’s long term compliance behavior. Furthermore, analyses of these data suggest that total fines levied prior to the most recent fine actually have a positive relationship with noncompliance. We suggest these results imply a decaying effect of deterrence that is perhaps connected to the organizational structure of the treadmill of production.


Green criminology Environmental crime Corporate crime White collar crime Deterrence theory 



Previous versions of this manuscript were presented at the American Society of Criminology 2016 Annual Meeting and the 2017 EcoJustice and Activism Conference. We are grateful for the participants and their comments.

Funding Statement

This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.


  1. Almer, C., & Goeschl, T. (2010). Environmental crime and punishment: Empirical evidence from the German penal code. Land Economics, 86(4), 707–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Apel, R. (2013). Sanctions, perceptions, and crime: Implications for criminal deterrence. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 29(1), 67–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Assunção, J., Gandour, C., & Rocha, R. (2013). DETERring deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon: Environmental monitoring and law enforcement. Climate policy initiative. Accessed August 25, 2017 at
  4. Baron, R., & Kenny, D. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beccaria, C. (1963). On crimes and punishments. Translated with an introduction by Henry Paolucci. New York: Macmillian.Google Scholar
  6. Becker, G. (1968). Crime and punishment: An economic approach. Journal of Political Economy, 76(2), 169–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beckett, K., & Harris, A. (2011). On cash and conviction: Monetary sanctions as misguided policy. Criminology & Public Policy, 10(3), 509–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Benz, T. A. (2017). Toxic cities: Neoliberalism and environmental racism in Flint and Detroit Michigan. Critical Sociology.
  9. Burns, R. G., & Lynch, M. J. (2002). Another fine mess a preliminary examination of the use of fines by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Criminal Justice Review, 27(1), 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Downey, L. (2006). Environmental racial inequality in Detroit. Social Forces, 85(2), 771–796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Earnhart, D. (2004a). Panel data analysis of regulatory factors shaping environmental performance. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 86(1), 391–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Earnhart, D. (2004b). Regulatory factors shaping environmental performance at publicly-owned treatment plants. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 48(1), 655–681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Egginton, J. (2009). The poisoning of Michigan. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Evans, M., Liu, L., & Stafford, S. 2011b. Can facilities police themselves? Evidence on the effectiveness of environmental auditing. Working paper. Accessed August 25, 2017 at
  15. Evans, M. F., Liu, L., & Stafford, S. L. (2011a). Do environmental audits improve long-term compliance? Evidence from manufacturing facilities in Michigan. Journal of Regulatory Economics, 40(3), 279–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Glicksman, R. L., & Earnhart, D. H. (2007). The comparative effectiveness of government interventions on environmental performance in the chemical industry. Stanford Environmental Law Journal, 26, 317–371.Google Scholar
  17. Gray, W. B., & Shimshack, J. P. (2011). The effectiveness of environmental monitoring and enforcement: A review of the empirical evidence. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 5(1), 3–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Greife, M. B., & Stretesky, P. B. (2013). Crude laws: Treadmill of production and state variations in civil and criminal liability for oil discharges in navigable waters. In N. South & A. Brisman (Eds.), Routledge international handbook of green criminology (pp. 150–166). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Guyette, C. (2015a). Flint water and the no blame game. Michigan Democracy Watch Blog: American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. Accessed August 4, 2017 at
  20. Guyette, C. (2015b). Flint’s state of emergency is a sign that democracy is working there again. The Guardian. Accessed August 4, 2017 at
  21. Hanna-Attisha, M., LaChance, J., Sadler, R. C., & Champney Schnepp, A. (2016). Elevated blood lead levels in children associated with the Flint drinking water crisis: A spatial analysis of risk and public health response. American Journal of Public Health, 106(2), 283–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harris, A. (2016). A pound of flesh: Monetary sanctions as punishment for the poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  23. Harris, A., Evans, H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing blood from stones: Legal debt and social inequality in the contemporary United States. American Journal of Sociology, 115(6), 1753–1799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. James, L. R., & Brett, J. M. (1984). Mediators, moderators and tests for mediation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69(2), 307–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kenny, D.A. (2016). “Mediation.” Accessed August 25, 2017 from
  26. Langpap, C., & Shimshack, J. P. (2010). Private citizen suits and public enforcement: Substitutes or complements? Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 59(3), 235–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Li, S., Batterman, S., Wasilevich, E., Wahl, R., Wirth, J., Su, F. C., & Mukherjee, B. (2011). Association of daily asthma emergency department visits and hospital admissions with ambient air pollutants among the pediatric Medicaid population in Detroit: Time-series and time-stratified case-crossover analyses with threshold effects. Environmental Research, 111(8), 1137–1147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Long, M. A., Stretesky, P. B., Lynch, M. J., & Fenwick, E. (2012). Crime in the coal industry: Implications for green criminology and treadmill of production. Organization & Environment, 25(3), 328–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lott, J.R., Karpoff, J. M., & Rankine, G. (1999). “Environmental Violations, Legal Penalties, and Reputation Costs.” John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics Working Paper No. 71: Chicago.Google Scholar
  30. Lynch, M. J. (2017). The sentencing/punishment of federal environmental criminal offenses, 2000-2013. Deviant Behavior, 38(9), 991–1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lynch, M. J., Barrett, K. L., Stretesky, P. B., & Long, M. A. (2016). The weak probability of punishment for environmental offenses and deterrence of environmental offenders: A discussion based on USEPA criminal cases, 1983–2013. Deviant Behavior, 37(10), 1095–1109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lynch, M. J., Stretesky, P. B., & Burns, R. G. (2004a). Slippery business: Race, class, and legal determinants of penalties against petroleum refineries. Journal of Black Studies, 34(3), 421–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lynch, M. J., Stretesky, P. B., & Burns, R. G. (2004b). Determinants of environmental law violation fines against petroleum refineries: Race, ethnicity, income, and aggregation effects. Society and Natural Resources, 17(4), 333–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Miller, H. V., Jennings, W. G., Alvarez-Rivera, L. L., & Lanza-Kaduce, L. (2009). Self-control, attachment, and deviance among Hispanic adolescents. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37(1), 77–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mohai, P., Kweon, B. S., Lee, S., & Ard, K. (2011). Air pollution around schools is linked to poorer student health and academic performance. Health Affairs, 30(5), 852–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nadeau, L. W. (1997). EPA effectiveness at reducing the duration of plant-level noncompliance. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 34(1), 54–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ozymy, J., & Jarrell, M. (2017). Red state, blue state, green state: Analysing the geography of federal environmental crime prosecutions within and across the U.S. states. Palgrave Communications, 3, 1–11 Available at SSRN: CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Paternoster, R. (2010). How much do we really know about criminal deterrence? The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 100(3), 765–824.Google Scholar
  39. Paternoster, R., Saltzman, L. E., Waldo, G. P., & Chiricos, T. G. (1983). Perceived risk and social control: Do sanctions really deter? Law and Society Review, 17(3), 457–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Petrossian, G. A. (2015). Preventing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing: A situational approach. Biological Conservation, 189, 39–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Piquero, A. R., & Jennings, W. G. (2016). Research note: Justice system–imposed financial penalties increase the likelihood of recidivism in a sample of adolescent offenders. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 15(3), 325–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Piquero, N. L., Exum, M. L., & Simpson, S. S. (2005). Integrating the desire-for-control and rational choice in a corporate crime context. Justice Quarterly, 22(2), 252–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pires, S., & Clarke, R. V. (2012). Are parrots CRAVED? An analysis of parrot poaching in Mexico. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 49(1), 122–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2005). Assessing macro-level predictors and theories of crime: A meta-analysis. Crime and justice, 32, 373–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pratt, T. C., Cullen, F. T., Blevins, K. R., Daigle, L. E., & Madensen, T. D. (2006). The empirical status of deterrence theory: A meta-analysis. In F. T. Cullen, J. P. Wright, & K. R. Blevins (Eds.), Taking stock: The status of criminological theory (pp. 367–396). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  46. Prechel, H., & Zheng, L. (2012). Corporate characteristics, political embeddedness and environmental pollution by large US corporations. Social Forces, 90(3), 947–970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rousseau, S., & Telle, K. (2010). On the existence of the optimal fine for environmental crime. International Review of Law and Economics, 30(4), 329–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schell-Busey, N., Simpson, S. S., Rorie, M., & Alper, M. (2016). What works? A systematic review of corporate crime deterrence. Criminology & Public Policy, 15(2), 387–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schwartz, J., & Morris, R. (1995). Air pollution and hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease in Detroit, Michigan. American Journal of Epidemiology, 142(1), 23–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sherman, L. (1990). Police crackdowns: Initial and residual deterrence. Crime and Justice, 12, 1–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shimshack, J. P., & Ward, M. B. (2005). Regulator reputation, enforcement, and environmental compliance. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 50(3), 519–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Shimshack, J. P., & Ward, M. B. (2008). Enforcement and over-compliance. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 55(1), 90–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Simpson, S. S. (2002). Corporate crime, law, and social control. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Simpson, S. S., Gibbs, C., Rorie, M., Slocum, L. A., Cohen, M., & Vandenbergh, M. (2013). An empirical assessment of corporate environmental crime-control strategies. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 103(1), 231–278.Google Scholar
  55. Simpson, S. S., & Koper, C. S. (1992). Deterring corporate crime. Criminology, 30(3), 347–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Stafford, S. L. (2002). The effect of punishment on firm compliance with hazardous waste regulations. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 44(2), 290–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Stretesky, P. B. (2006). Corporate self-policing and the environment. Criminology, 44(3), 671–708.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Stretesky, P. B., Long, M. A., & Lynch, M. J. (2013). Does environmental enforcement slow the treadmill of production? The relationship between large monetary penalties, ecological disorganization and toxic releases within offending corporations. Journal of Crime and Justice, 36(2), 233–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Taylor, M. (2015). Letter: The costs of suspended democracy. The Detroit News. Accessed August 4, 2017 at
  60. U.N. News Centre. (2014). In Detroit, city-backed water shut-offs ‘contrary to human rights,’ say UN experts. UN News Centre. Accessed August 4 2017 from
  61. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2014). Compliance and Enforcement Annual Results 2011 Fiscal Year. Accessed August 25, 2017.
  62. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). Fiscal Year 2016 EPA Enforcement and Compliance Annual Results. Accessed August 25, 2017.
  63. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2017a). Enforcement and Compliance History Online: Facility Search Results. Accessed November 10, 2017 at
  64. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2017b). Three year compliance status by quarter. Detailed facility report data dictionary. Accessed August 25th at
  65. We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective. (2016). Mapping the water crisis: The dismantling of African-American neighborhoods in Detroit: Volume one. Detroit, MI: We the People of Detroit Community Research Collective.Google Scholar
  66. Williams, L. (2016). Struggling to breathe in Wayne County, Michigan. The Planet: Sierra Club Stories from the Front Lines. Accessed August 4, 21017 from
  67. York, R. (2004). The treadmill of (diversifying) production. Organization & Environment, 17(3), 355–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kimberly L. Barrett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael J. Lynch
    • 2
  • Michael A. Long
    • 3
  • Paul B. Stretesky
    • 4
  1. 1.Sociology, Anthropology, & Criminology DepartmentEastern Michigan UniversityYpsilantiUSA
  2. 2.Department of CriminologyUniversity of South FloridaTampaUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyOklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  4. 4.Department of Social Sciences and LanguagesNorthumbria UniversityNewcastleUK

Personalised recommendations