The Impact of Punitive Criminal Policy in Sentencing and its Fiscal Effects

Funding: OTKA  
Duration: September 1, 2017 - August 31, 2019 (23 months)

In 2012, a stricter new Criminal Code in Hungary entered into force. It symbolized a punitive criminal policy that has also been embraced by other countries’ criminal justice systems. Punitive criminal policy bears the logic of retribution and punishment, a clear depart from the rehabilitation-oriented approach that prevailed during the post-world war welfare state. Punitive criminal policy also resulted in overcrowded prisons worldwide despite stable crime rates. Between 2007 and 2018, the prison population grew by 3,000 people in Hungary, while the number of criminal offenders decreased. Similar trends are also visible in other European countries. Numerous studies have attempted to explain the situation, but they haven‘t found out how stricter sentencing rules lead to severer sentencing practice. The researcher Mihály Tóth started out the project “The impact of punitive criminal policy in sentencing and its fiscal effects” to explore the factors that shape both criminal policy and its implementation in Hungary.

Instead of using criminal statistics, Tóth innovates in this project by using sentencing statistics from the Prison Service, which aggregates and governs sentences issued by Hungarian criminal courts, as well as exploring econometric modeling as research methods. Further, his use of dynamic microsimulation—a sophisticated method steaming from economics, engineering and operational research—allows him to build a forecasting tool that policymakers can use to gasp the size of longer-term effects of criminal law changes even if they are just introduced. The method will also permit users to estimate the imprisonment costs associated by these laws.

Shedding light on these issues is relevant for many reasons. Prison population rises over time, a trend that is difficult to reverse. Besides coming with higher governmental costs, a rising prison population may mean that current criminal policies detract from international best practices. In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hungary address overcrowding and prisoner abuses. Beyond offering a descriptive catalogue of legal changes that may have shaped the current punitive criminal policy in Hungary, the project scrutinize how judges practice criminal law following criminal reforms, and has the long-term impact of fostering evidence-based policies on current and future criminal law. Besides planned discussions in local and international conferences, Tóth will explore the project’s innovative methods in a top English peer-reviewed criminology journal.

Principal investigator (PI):

Mihály Tóth   
Research Chair   
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