There are many courts in the United states and Canada that are struggling with how to fairly sentence in an era of a pandemic.
How should we think about crime deterrence in times of pandemics? The economic analysis of crime tells us that potential offenders will compare the costs and the benefits from crime and from innocence and then choose whichever option that is more profitable. We must therefore ask ourselves how this comparison is affected by the outbreak of a pandemic and the policy changes which may accompany it, such as governmental restrictions, social distancing, and economic crises. Using insights from law and economics, this article investigates how the various components in the cost-benefit analysis of crime might change during a pandemic, focusing on COVID-19 as a test case. Building on classical theoretical models, existing empirical evidence, and behavioral aspects, the analysis reveals that there are many potentially countervailing effects on crime deterrence. The article thus highlights the need to carefully consider which aspects are applicable given the circumstances of the pandemic, as whether crime deterrence will increase or decrease should depend on the strength of the effects at play.