47th Tikkun Olam Award to Professor John J. Donohue III


JOHN J. DONOHUE III is C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith professor of law at Stanford University. He is well known for using empirical analysis to determine the impact of law and public policy in a wide range of areas, including examinations of the impact on crime of the death penalty, incarceration, guns, and the legalization of abortion. Other work by Donohue has explored the benefits from stronger efforts to fight racial discrimination in employment and in school funding, and examined the issues involved in the regulation of illegal substances. Before rejoining the Stanford Law School faculty in 2010, Professor Donohue was the Leighton Homer Surbeck professor of law at Yale Law School. He recently co-authored Employment Discrimination: Law and Theory with George Rutherglen. Earlier in his career, he was a law professor at Northwestern University as well as a research fellow with the American Bar Association. Additionally, he clerked with Chief Justice T. Emmet Clarie, of the U.S. District Court of Hartford, Connecticut. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the empirical editor of the American Law and Economics Review, and the current president of the American Law and Economics Association. He received his B.A. from Hamilton College, his J.D. from Harvard University, and his Ph.D. in economics from Yale University.

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What is your current position and area of research?

I am the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research. I work in the broad area of economic analysis of law and policy and have done a great deal of econometric evaluation of criminal justice policy questions.

What led you to this field/area of research?

I was trained in labor economics and also got my law degree and I started thinking about new research topics as crime was rising very sharply in the late 1980s when I finished my PhD. Applying econometrics to answer some of these questions about how to most effectively fight crime seemed like a good idea and that is the path I went down.
Where do you see your field progressing over the next 10 years?

Much work will need to be done to improve criminal justice policy in the area of incarceration and control of guns and harmful substances. Empirical methodology is continuing to improve and further advances will improve the accuracy of statistical modeling.
What, in your opinion, has been the greatest achievement in the fields of criminology and social sciences?

The greatest success in criminology has been to understand and empirically establish that swift and certain punishment is the most effective means of deterring crime and that harshness of punishment is often the enemy of swift and certain punishment (as it certainly is with the death penalty). Thus, while Beccaria had essentially outlined the correct insights on punishment in 1764, Gary Becker’s suggestion that it was advantageous to catch a few criminals and punish them more harshly turned out to be a step in the wrong direction. Research over the last twenty years has shown that Beccaria’s skepticism about unduly harsh punishment (and the death penalty) as well as the benefits from swift and certain punishment were largely correct. Documenting and understanding the best ways to use police to reduce crime has also been a major achievement

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