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The Economics of Stigma: Why More Detection of Crime May Result in Less Stigmatization

By Alon Harel and Alon Klement


This paper establishes that there may be an inverse relation between the rate of detection and the deterrent effects of stigma. The more people are detected and stigmatized, the less deterrence there may be. This conclusion is based on a search model in which the costs of searching for law-abiding partners increase with the rate of detection. The model distinguishes between willing stigmatizers, who refrain from business or social contacts with someone they believe has committed an offense (whether he is detected or not), and unwilling stigmatizers, whose main concern is not to be associated with the stigmatized yet are indifferent to whether that person has actually committed an offense. The inverse relation between the rate of detection and the deterrent effect of stigma is possible when the percentage of unwilling stigmatizers in the population is sufficiently high.

DOI identifier: 10.1086/511893
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