Misgovernance and Human Rights: The Case of Illegal Detention without Intent

Tara Slough, Christopher Fariss

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Existing explanations of human rights abuses emphasize a strategic logic of repression. Yet certain classes of abuses may arise absent the intent to repress because of the misaligned bureaucratic incentives of state agents. To separate accounts of strategic repression from bureaucratic incentives, we study the responses of state agents working within the Haitian criminal justice system to a randomized, free legal assistance intervention for detainees held in illegal pretrial detention. Legal assistance addresses moral hazard problems of the bureaucrats responsible for processing cases. We demonstrate that legal assistance accelerates case advancement and liberation, in line with the view that large-scale human rights abuses in the justice system can result from poor governance and not repressive intent.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)148-165
    Number of pages18
    JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 2021

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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