Encyclopedia of Law and Economics

2019 Edition
| Editors: Alain Marciano, Giovanni Battista Ramello


  • Paolo BuonannoEmail author
  • Juan F. Vargas
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-7753-2_595



Prison (or incarceration) is one of the most important forms of sanction in many modern criminal system. Incarceration may impact the overall level of crime and affect criminal behavior through several channels: incapacitation, deterrence (general deterrence and specific deterrence), rehabilitation. Understanding whether individuals respond to any of the effects outlined above is a crucial aspect for the design of effective crime reduction policies.


The most important form of criminal sanction in many modern criminal justice systems is incarceration. The utilitarian theory of punishment developed by Cesare Beccaria (1764) and Jeremy Bentham (1789) defines the extent to which incarceration or imprisonment may be considered beneficial for society as a whole. The utilitarian rationale justifies any form of punishment, under the condition that the associated benefits are higher than the implied costs. In...

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative MethodsUniversity of BergamoBergamoItaly
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversidad del RosarioBogotaColombia