Crime, Criminals, and Competitive Crime Control

Given the negative consequences of crime, it should come as no surprise that states will endeavor to make their dominions less hospitable to potential criminal actors. This predisposition, when played out on a national stage, would appear ripe for a dynamic in which states will seek to “out-tough” one another, leading to a spiral of detrimental competitiveness. Doran Teichman, in an article recently appearing in these pages, advances just such a view. Teichman posits that the decentralized structure of America’s federalist system provides states with “an incentive to increasingly harshen” their crime control efforts, with the net result being excessive penalties and inefficient over-expenditures in state crime control efforts. He reaches this conclusion by wedding two distinct literatures: jurisdictional competition, based on the seminal work of Charles Tiebout, and crime displacement and spillover, a focus of theoretical criminology. Even more provocative is Teichman’s prescription for change. Running against a heavy tide of commentary condemning increased federal involvement in criminal justice, Teichman urges that the federal government serve as a “regulator” of the states so that they can “achieve uniformity” and thereby avoid “inefficient harshening.” Although not the first commentator to tie crime spillover effects to race-to-the-bottom concerns, Teichman provides perhaps the most developed treatment of the thesis to date. In the limited space available here, I will not seek to dispute the theoretical verity of Teichman’s jurisdictional competition model more generally and the largely anecdotal evidence he advances in support. Rather, I wish to highlight two specific areas of criminal justice policy where such competition is absent-sex offender registration and recidivist enhancement laws-and discuss the effects of state-state interconnection.