Preferences for Criminal Justice Error Types: Theory and Evidence

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What shapes individuals’ preferences for criminal justice error types, that is, the preferences for convicting the innocent versus letting the guilty go free? The strong correlation between preferences for criminal justice error types and incarceration rates across countries highlights the importance of these preferences. I develop an instrumental theory and an intrinsic theory of the preferences for criminal justice error types. Using individual-level data from the United States, I find support for both theories. Consistent with the instrumental theory of preferences, gender, race, and concern about crime shape preferences. Consistent with the intrinsic theory of preferences, education and ideology also shape preferences. I confirm these findings using individual-level data from 22 countries and provide some suggestive evidence that culture shapes preferences too.

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