For the most part, the United States has a decentralized criminal justice system. State legislatures define the majority of crimes and set out the punishments for those crimes. In addition, the enforcement of criminal laws lies, in most cases, in the hands of local law enforcement agencies. This article points out how this decentralized structure drives local jurisdictions to harshen their criminal justice system in order to displace crime to neighboring jurisdictions. More precisely, local jurisdictions can attempt to displace crime in two distinct ways. First, they can raise the expected sanction to a level that is higher than that in neighboring jurisdictions in order to become less attractive crime targets. Second, they can remove from them individuals who demonstrated that they have a high propensity to commit crimes. The article then turns to analyze the policy implications of the existence of jurisdictional competition in the area of criminal justice, and argues that the United States’ criminal justice system might need a comprehensive structure reform that will regulate the competitive market for criminal justice.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Jurisdiction | Law and Economics

Date of this Version

September 2004