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The Economics of Race, Crime, and Law Enforcement — University of Minnesota

This course has three objectives: a) to help students develop the skill of being able to read and interpret journal articles and technical reports in the domain of the economics of 2 crime and law enforcement; b) to provide guidance on how to use economic models to analyze racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system; and c) to explore the strengths and weaknesses of the rational choice model for developing policies to address problems of race, crime and law enforcement.

There are many crime and law enforcement policy debates that hinge on economic modeling. Do body cameras reduce racial disparities in police use of deadly force? Do gun buy-backs, waiting periods, mandated gun designs (such as trigger locks), background checks, or high taxes on gun sales reduce violence? Do risk assessment protocols in child abuse and neglect investigations help to reduce the child-homicides? Do longer prison sentences or increased arrests for drug violations reduce injuries sustained by victims of robberies and other property crimes? Do airport profiling and targeted searches help to increase arrests of drug dealers and/or terrorists? Do increased police response times and arrests reduce the risk of intimate partner violence in domestic disputes? Do welfare reforms that make it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships increase the risk of violence? Do metal detectors in schools and zero-tolerance policies affect the likelihood of mass shootings on secondary school campuses?

More fundamentally, how does Policy Analysis frame these questions so that answers can be sought? What are the tools of applied microeconomics and quantitative policy analysis that are useful in addressing these questions of developing strategies for reducing or controlling crime and violence in society? How can conventional rational choice models be applied effectively to help structure these questions? When do these models fail? What types of empirical approaches can overcome the conceptual weaknesses of choice models in designing and evaluating anti-violence initiatives?

This course approaches these questions. It is more a course on Applied Policy Analysis with a focus on methods and techniques for problem solving related to criminal justice issues than it is a course about the social or psychological underpinnings of crime itself. The common theme, derived from the economics of crime literature, is that under certain circumstances deterrence and sanctions work to influence individual outcomes. The course introduces modeling schemes for helping to craft interventions that might work. The course explores how one goes about measuring and estimating how effectively these policy instruments work.