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The legitimate and criminal earnings of mid-rate and high-rate burglars, robbers, auto thieves, swindlers, and mixed types (mostly drug dealers) among state prison inmates in California, Michigan, and Texas are estimated and compared to the inmates' perceptions of their earnings. Crime appears to pay less than legitimate work for most mid-rate offenders; the reverse is true for most high-rate offenders. Inmates believe that they receive from crime much more than they do in fact. The earnings from crime per day spent in prison decrease as the number of crimes increases, suggesting that high-rate offenders commit crimes with little regard to the net yield. The authors suggest that career criminals do not maximize the net benefits of crime because they are highly present-oriented and quite opportunistic.

Originally published in: Justice Quarterly, v. 9, no. 3, September 1992, pp. 359-377.

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