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date: 20 February 2019

Summary and Keywords

The influence of economic crises on crime and penality is one of the fundamental issues in economic analysis of the punitive field, and the topic has been explored from various perspectives in a wide range of criminology theories. From a criminal-motivation viewpoint, economic crises are seen to favor crime-rate growth because of their serious effects of increasing unemployment, increasing in poverty, and generating inequality. Similarly, diverse economic approaches to penality (though not all of them, for example, law- and economics-based theses) hold that economic crises usually produce a rise in punitiveness and a consequent rise in incarceration rates.

However, specialized academic literature has highlighted that the generally accepted view is far from accurate in all cases. Economic crises do not necessarily produce an increase in crime (at least not in all types of crime), nor do they always lead to an increase in punitiveness. Indeed, empirical studies about the effect of diverse economic crises (the Great Depression, the oil crisis of the 1970s, and the recent Great Recession) reveal an ambiguous panorama of the evolution in crime and penality.

The impact of economic turmoil on crime and punishment should be examined in all its complexity. Crime rates and incarceration rates are hardly correlated, and the latter are far more influenced by a variegated set of political, social, cultural, and economic forces than by changes in crime patterns themselves. To scrutinize the effect of economic determinants on the penal field, the analysis of economic crises and crime should therefore be separated from the analysis of economic crises and penality. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of academic literature and empirical data on the implications of pre-21st-century financial crises for crime and punishment. The recent Great Recession thus has great utility for delving into the consequences of periods of economic chaos on crime and punitiveness.

Keywords: economic crises, crime, penality, Great Recession, economic analysis on crime and punishment, political economy of punishment

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