Over-incarceration and disenfranchisement
Murat C. Mungan
Received: 3 December 2016 / Accepted: 5 April 2017 / Published online: 9 April 2017
Ó Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017
Abstract This article presents a model wherein law enforcers propose sentences to maximize
their likelihood of reelection, and shows that elections typically generate over-incarceration,
i.e., longer than optimal sentences. It then studies the effects of disenfranchisement laws,
which prohibit convicted felons from voting. The removal of ex-convicts from the pool of
eligible voters reduces the pressure politicians may otherwise face to protect the interests of
this group, and thereby causes the political process to push the sentences for criminal offenses
upwards. Therefore, disenfranchisement further widens the gap between the optimal sentence
and the equilibrium sentence, and thereby exacerbates the problem of over-incarceration.
Moreover, this result is valid even when voter turnout is negatively correlated with people’s
criminal tendencies, i.e., when criminals vote less frequently than non-criminals.
Keywords Disenfranchisement Over-incarceration Mass incarceration Imprisonment
Crime and deterrence Representative voter theorem
JEL Classiﬁcation D70 D72 K00 K14 K42 P48
Mass incarceration is a phrase that is used—rather imprecisely—to refer to the high
incarceration rate in the United States. Commentators often use the phrase without spec-
ifying the causes of the problem (e.g., over-criminalization, over-enforcement, or both),
The original version of this article was revised. The publisher regrets that due to an unfortunate turn of
events in Eqs. (32) and (34) erroneous mathematical expression was introduced during article processing.
Both equations have been corrected in the article and should be regarded as the ﬁnal version by the reader.
& Murat C. Mungan
Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, Arlington, VA, USA
Public Choice (2017) 172:377–395