“One in 31 Adults”
by reader Run
“One in 31 Adults”
are under the control of the correctional system (prison, parole, probation) according to a March 2009 Pew Center Report of the same title. 1 in every one hundred adults are imprisoned in jail, state prisons, or federal facilities. 25 years ago those under the control of the correctional system was one in 77 adults. The population under correctional control is ~ 7.3 million (2007).
What does a growing prison and correctional population cost for taxpayers? To support the growing state prison population, costs range from ~$13,000 in Louisiana to ~$45,000 in Rhode Island annually (2005). The average is ~$23,000 annually, “US Imprisons 1 in every 100 Adults” NYT. The cost of imprisonment compares nicely to a state or private college education (another story). As a whole the US imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other nation in the world from which the cost burden of housing prisoners has become an issue for states with a decreasing/stagnant economy and decreasing tax revenues. Paradoxically while costing more, jails and prisons for many communities are a stable and growing business employing people, services, and a fast growing part of the rural economies.
Incarceration Nation as one part of, Schmidt, Warner, and Gupta’s “The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration” (Real-World Economics Review, Issue no. 53) suggest much of the increased numbers of those under control of the correctional system result from harsher sentencing guidelines which in turn also have a lesser impact on crime. The mandated guidelines (drugs, three strikes, recidivism issues, etc.) result in higher imprisonment rates and consequently long sentences, higher costs to house prisoners as more prisoners are kept interned for longer periods, and have a diminished impact on crime.
By historical standards the rate of imprisonment in the US is 350+ percent of what it was in 1980. Globally, the US is 3 times higher than the nest in line for imprisonment, seven times higher than the median rate for an OCED country, and seventeen times higher than Iceland which has the lowest rate of incarceration. And yet, the increases in imprisonment can not be explained with certainty by increases in crime. While crime did increase from 1990 to 1992, there was a fall off of crime in later years. In 1992, violent crime peaked at 44% higher than its 1980 level and property crime at 7% above its 1980 level. During the same time period, incarceration grew to 150% of its 1980 level. After 1992, crime decreased to a level close to its 1980 level.
It is possible to make both an economic and crime impact argument for less harsh sentencing guidelines. Table 3 illustrates 1 in 4 drug offenders are more likely to be imprisoned rather than placed on probation or released earlier on parole. The increase for drug offenders is up from 1 in 10 in 1980.
“The most sophisticated analyses generally agree that increased incarceration rates have some effect on reducing crime, but the scope of that impact is limited: a 10 percent increase in incarceration is associated with a 2 to 4 percent drop in crime. Moreover, analysts are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that continued growth in incarceration will prevent considerably fewer, if any, crimes than past increases did and will cost taxpayers substantially more to achieve.” Stemen (2007). See also Austin et al. (2007), Irwin, Schiraldi, and Ziedenberg (1999), and Public Safety Performance Project (2007).
“The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration”
While the study suggests there is a correlation between harsher sentencing guidelines and the lessening of crime by imprisoning people at earlier ages and harsher sentencing both of which acts as a deterrent to crime, the impact is small and costly in dollars and in societal costs. The increased harsher sentencing guidelines diminishes with the severity of the sentencing and is determined to be as little as a reduction of 2% in crime with an increase of 10% in incarceration. Played out in the harsher sentencing guidelines are costs of ~$75 billion in 2008 up from under $20 billion in 1980 with 60% being borne by state and local governments.
Table 4 suggests a modification of sentencing guidelines of ~50% in sentencing guidelines at the federal, state, and local level would result in reductions in cost of ~$17B with the greatest impact being felt at both a state and local level, the governments restricted by budgeting mandates. The changing of minimum sentencing, truth in sentencing, and three strikes guidelines for non-violent crimes would contribute significantly to increases in prison population.
This only touches upon sentencing guidelines. Reviewing the actions of state parole boards, one would find many of them are denying parole and holding prisoners well beyond the minimums declared by the sentencing guidelines which are followed by state judges. Add to this an interpretation of a “life sentence” to mean a life in prison in the parole board system the same as a sentence of “natural life.” In effective, the Parole Board is acting as a secondary and more restrictive court in action as appointed officials. Parole boards have little, if any, legal basis to interpret the law differently then the sentencing as interpreted by judges of state law. States could achieve a significant cost reduction in prison costs by holding state parole boards to the sentencing guidelines passed by the state and representative of the population who elected the legislature who passed the guidelines. This restriction on parole boards would add to the cost reduction achievable through a lessening of sentencing guidelines.
And the donkey Coberly wants to double prison time for anyone selling drugs that try to mimic candy.
We need to keep putting people in jail so that we can keep on Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs.
*I can’t make this s*** up. That is an actual name of a bill minted by nanny Feinstei.
I am not sure of the value of comparing OECD countries, the culture in the U.S. is so different. It is also difficult to make a broad argument on non-violent crime. In the case of drugs for instance crystal meth users should fall under a different assessment than marijuana users, crystla meth users are much more likely to have a detrimental effect on quality of life in their community than marijuana users are.
The incarceration rates in this country are indeed ugly. While programs may offer a chance to lessen them I think the root problem is the lack of purpose our society offers many people, especially meaningfull employment opportunities, the anger and need to make money results in criminal activity, but our brand of capitalism does require a lot of fear and desperation to function. If one simply changes the after crime programs one still releases into the same world they came out of.
It is interesting also that so much of our economy functions in sectors with bloated costs. The criminal justice system, the health care system, the military, higher education. A lot of our economy is filled with excess costs.
Jay–What’s Coberly got to do with Feinstein’s edible or candy-flavored drugs law? Are you thinking perhaps of Coburn? Can’t find a google reference to coberly or coburn in connection with Feinstein’s legislation. FYI. Nancy Ortiz
One thing that gets lost in discussions of the economics of imprisonment is the welfare of the prisoner. Somehow, their welfare stops mattering once they are convicted – or arrested, perhaps. If we are doing a strict welfare calculus, then prisoners’ loss of freedom and their family’s loss of affection, income and service are all part of the deal. Seen that way, a high incarceration rate is much more expensive than just a $23k/year average payment for prison costs. Oh, and kick in economic loss to society for prisoners who had been working, paying their bills and their taxes.
While broad social issues do surely contribute to criminality, there is a simpler, nuts-and-bolts reason for high rates of imprisonment. We just jail people for too long, and for too many things. Lot of poor people spend time in jail, while rich people who do greater harm manage to settle without admitting wrong-doing. If we are going to keep winning votes by making pot illegal, there ought at least to be a way of settling the charge without admitting wrong-doing.
As an aside, we arrest people for too many things, too. Sit in a courtroom doing arraignments for a while and you’ll see what I mean. People are taken to jail for being inconvenient. People are taken to jail for insisting on their rights in front of police officers. Yelling will get you arrested. Sleeping will get you arrested. Picking up groceries in entirely conventional ways (for the particular location) with which the arresting officer is simply unfamiliar – I kid you not – will get you arrested. I really want to hear those who complain about a “nanny society” start objecting to all the time citizens suffering “time out” inside a cell.
I had a professor almost twenty years ago who went through the prisoner stats in the US and the comparison between sentences for ‘blue collar’ vs white collar crime and said they weren’s so much jailing criminals as containing an underclass.
After reading this, I did a little research and learned that according to the National Institute of Corrections, the cost of imprisoning my father will be right around $500,000 if he serves most of the 15 years he was sentenced. That is just over 40% of the amount he was convicted of not paying in taxes; if one takes into account the amount of taxes he actually did pay over the previous decade, the federal government can expect to be out around 13x more than they believe to have lost on his taxes alone. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account all of the jobs that were lost and the opportunities that are presently being forgone as a result of locking up a proven entrepreneur. I understand the logic of making an example, of course, but I tend to doubt even those who conceptually support the long-term imprisonment of “tax evaders” would conclude that spending at least $13 to chase $1 is an intelligent investment,
I am not confident of the numbers, but to the point.
I should have linked back but I’m too lazy. A few posts ago I mocked Feinstein’s legistlation. Coberly shot back saying something to the likes of “If only the government had saved you from dangerous drugs”.
Eliminate punishment of behavior that the culture legislated as unlawful to save money?
Makes sense…..What could go wrong?
….part of the point was to kharris, I am not sure what yours is referring to Jimi.
No where did I say eliminate punishment. I did say the sentencing guidelines are to rigid and punitive for the crime committed and the costs associated with the sentencing. Add to this the actions of a parole board to keep prisoners in prison beyond minimun sentencing (which is unconstitutional) and the costs escalate even more.
If you believe this is bad, check out the costs of excuting (murdering) a prisoner. The costs are 5 to 10 times as much as a natural life sentence. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/599
Ah…if that is it Run75441, Jimi is trying to divert attention away from the post’s complexity.
Jimi: Don’t be obtuse. The Bears finally got something right, even if they are using the wrong rationale to get there. We just need to knock enough sense in them to realize their nanny state policies are part of the problem.
It is not just republicans that get a thrill out of throwing people in jail. It is the Feinstein’s of the world as well.
Actually traditional red states inprison a higher percentage and execute more prisoners than the blue states. Within those traditional red states exists lower levels of income and higher poverty with the programs being spartan in comparison. If you are going to make the comparison, this would be the basis. What the articles are saying are thre rates of incarceration are the results of sentencing guidelines on rates of crime approaching the 1980s.
If you read the articles cited, I believe you will find the higher percentage of a race in prison is Black, which would correspond to a lower upward mobility rate and less opportunity.
Other issues… People who get out of prison have trouble getting jobs or a place to live, due to felony records. So we create a new group of unemployed homeless people. Keeping people in prison a long time increases cost as they age and develop health problems. A large number of the people in prison are mentally ill. We have replaced mental hospitals with prisons.There is a famous quote by Nixon, “We need to find a way to go after blacks, without seeming to go after blacks.” The war on drugs has done this, at great expense and with great damage to the African-American community; and it has resulted in lots of people in prison for drug addiction problems and/or small time trading in drugs.
Run75441: Correlation proves causation. Brilliant. What other debunked 1 century AD theories are you going to bring up?
Jay…if all you have is sarcasm when you could be actually helping out the discussion, then you diminish us all, but especially yourself. Run asked an implicit question and you are shooting blanks.
Become a white collar crook, make the calculation of how much money you should screw several people out of and bury in the forrest to compensate for the time you spend in jail, because the sentence you are doing as been reduced to make the crime outway the time.
Go to forrest, recover money
Repeat Step #1