A Theory of “Too Big To Jail”

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paper

133 Downloads (Pure)


Motivated by some recent examples, this paper employs a model of public law enforcement to explain why it may not be in society’s interest to send criminals to prison. We establish two main findings. First, independent of the lawbreaker’s societal position, imprisonment is suboptimal when the harm from the illegal activity is sufficiently small. Second, for a given level of harm, imprisonment is suboptimal when the lawbreaker is sufficiently important. This latter result thus provides a rationale for why some parties are taken to be “too big to jail”.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherMaastricht University, Graduate School of Business and Economics
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2021

Publication series

SeriesGSBE Research Memoranda

JEL classifications

  • d63 - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
  • k42 - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law


  • Class Justice
  • Nonmonetary Sanctions
  • Optimal Law Enforcement
  • Too Big To Jail

Cite this