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Preventing crime through selective incapacitation


  •  Corresponding author: Ben Vollaard, Economics Department, Tilburg University, Postbox 90153, 5000 LE, Tilburg, the Netherlands. Email:

  • I thank Jan van Ours, Meltem Daysal, Pierre Koning, Olivier Marie, Emily Owens, the editor Jörn-Steffen Pischke, two anonymous referees and seminar participants at University of Amsterdam, Cornell University, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Maastricht University, the Bonn 2010 Law and Economics workshop, and the American Society of Criminology 2010 Annual meeting for helpful comments. Crime and sentencing statistics were generously provided by Paul Linckens and Cyril van Schijndel with the Netherlands Department of Corrections (DJI) and Richard Beijersbergen van Henegouwen with the Netherlands Police (KLPD/IPOL). Financial support from Politie & Wetenschap is gratefully acknowledged.


Making the length of a prison sentence conditional upon an individual’s offence history is shown to be a powerful way of preventing crime. Under a law adopted in the Netherlands in 2001, prolific offenders could be sentenced to a prison term that was approximately 10 times longer than usual. We exploit quasi-experimental variation in application of the law across 31 cities to identify the effect on crime. We find the sentence enhancements to have reduced the rate of theft by 25%. The size of the crime-reducing effect is found to be subject to diminishing returns.