A Theory of 'Too Big To Jail'

I. Bos*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


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
Pages (from-to)569-582
Number of pages14
JournalReview of Law & Economics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2021

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

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