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Posts Tagged ‘prison’

Reducing Recidivism Through Incentives

Ryan Bradley, writing for CNNMoney, highlights an interesting policy experiment currently underway in New York City: a social impact bond geared at reducing recidivism:

They are called “social impact bonds.” The first, issued in 2012 by Goldman Sachs (GS), is underway in New York City for $9.6 million. The money is going toward a four-year program to reduce reincarceration of juveniles at Riker’s Island prison. Goldman Sachs has a vested interest in the success of this program. If participants stop returning to jail at a rate of 10% or greater, Goldman will earn $2.1 million. If the recidivism rate rises above 10% over four years, Goldman stands to lose $2.4 million. In a recent report, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law calls this a “bet on success … instead of using the typical model of privatization, in which private prisons generally bet on failure (i.e. the more prisoners, the better).”

Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of a nonprofit that, among other things, helps former convicts avoid reincarceration for minor parole violations, believes the idea could be “transformative.”  

Some Evidence That Violent Video Games Reduce Actual Violence

A few weeks ago, we released a podcast called “Who Runs the Internet,” which included Levitt’s thoughts on whether online mayhem, including violent video games, may actually reduce real-world violence.  Here’s what Levitt had to say on the matter:

Maybe the biggest effect of all of having these violent video games is that they’re super fun for people to play, especially adolescent boys, maybe even adolescent boys who are prone to real violence. And so if you can make video games fun enough, then kids will stop doing everything else. They’ll stop watching TV, they’ll stop doing homework, and they’ll stop going out and creating mayhem on the street. 

The Times of Israel recently reported on a new study confirming Levitt’s theory:

The research, done by The Center for Educational Technology, asserts that video games — even violent ones — are beneficial for children on a scale much bigger than originally thought. The claims are in contradiction to other studies that found that extended gaming led to depression, anxiety and stunted social development, not to mention the physical effects brought on by long hours of sitting. Some studies have also linked between video games and increased violent behavior in children, arguing that simulated violence leads to real-life violence.

Does Juvenile Incarceration Act as a Deterrent?

Is putting a juvenile offender in jail a useful deterrent or one big step in the wrong direction? That’s the question asked in a new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Anna Aizer and Joseph J. Doyle. It appears that the deterrence argument doesn’t hold much water:

Over 130,000 juveniles are detained in the U.S. each year with 70,000 in detention on any given day, yet little is known whether such a penalty deters future crime or interrupts social and human capital formation in a way that increases the likelihood of later criminal behavior. This paper uses the incarceration tendency of randomly-assigned judges as an instrumental variable to estimate causal effects of juvenile incarceration on high school completion and adult recidivism. Estimates based on over 35,000 juvenile offenders over a ten-year period from a large urban county in the US suggest that juvenile incarceration results in large decreases in the likelihood of high school completion and large increases in the likelihood of adult incarceration. These results are in stark contrast to the small effects typically found for adult incarceration, but consistent with larger impacts of policies aimed at adolescents.

How to Cut Prison Costs Without Driving Up Crime?

Putting people in prison helps drive down crime but it’s not cheap, a fact that is troubling some states. So is there a way to cut  incarceration rates without spiking crime?  Yes, says economist Ben Vollaard in a recent article (long version) arguing in favor of “selective incapacitation”:

The idea of selective incapacitation is to make a distinction between offenders with a high and with a low propensity to commit crime. Those of the high propensity type – the prolific offenders – are responsible for a large share of violent and property crime (Tracy et al. 1990). To them, the default penalties have little deterrent effect. By making the length of a prison sentence conditional upon an offender’s criminal record, enhanced prison sentences can be targeted at this population. After all, by repeatedly breaking the law, these offenders reveal themselves to be of the prolific type (Polinsky and Rubinfeld 1991). Once the harsher sentences apply, the penalties may begin to make a difference, if not through deterrence, then by way of incapacitation in prison. 

The Economics of For-Profit Prisons

The Times-Picayune reports on Louisiana’s prison ecosystem — and the perverse incentives for sheriffs to keep inmate numbers high:

Louisiana’s incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran’s, seven times China’s and 10 times Germany’s.

The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash. A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.

Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market. But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia. A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.

Why Do Black Men Live Longer in Prison?

A recent Reuters headline got a lot of attention on the Web. It read: “Black men survive longer in prison than out: study.” Gawker picked it up; so did The Atlantic, Yahoo, and the Grio. I tracked down the study’s author David Rosen, an epidemiology PhD and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina, to see if this was actually the case. Rosen focuses his research on the health-care system inside prisons. For this latest study, he matched North Carolina prison records against state death records from 1995 to 2005, in order to compare the mortality rates of black and white male prisoners against their general population counterparts.
The results of his sample (100,000 men aged 20-79) were striking in how much they differed by race. While the total death rate of black men in prison is half that of black men in the general population, white prisoners die at about a 12% faster clip than their general population counterparts. This is essentially what a previous report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics found in 2007.
Rosen was good enough to answer questions about what he feels his study says about health-care, prisons and race.

Inmates Cash in on Prison Phone Glitch

From Arelis R. Hernández at the Orlando Sentinel comes a hilariously idiotic story of a jail in Lake County, Florida, where rather than having money withdrawn from their accounts, inmates were paid to make phone calls. So much so that one man bonded out after making 77 calls and having $1,250 deposited into his account. He ended up turning himself in a few hours later.

The Supreme Court Provides a Dissertation Topic for a Budding Economist

Last week, the Supreme Court ordered California to release at least 30,000 prisoners due to poor prison conditions caused by overcrowding.
This is what economists call a “natural experiment,” or what I prefer to call an “accidental experiment.” The Supreme Court order will be a “shock” to the California prison system, leading to roughly a 10 percent reduction in the prison population there. I used this sort of accidental experiment in a paper I published back in 1996, finding a large impact of mandated prison releases on state crime rates. If my estimates remain relevant to the current time period, I predict that California violent crime rates should rise about 4 percent relative to the rest of the U.S. over the next few years. That adds up to about 80 extra homicides a year.
Five years from now, no doubt, an economics graduate student will analyze the data and tell us what the actual numbers look like. Unless, of course, I beat them to the punch!

The "Sole Purpose" of SuperFreakonomics

Here is a multiple choice question for you.
Read the following passage, taken from SuperFreakonomics:
If you know someone in southeastern Uganda who is having a baby next year, you should hope with all your heart that the baby isn’t born in May. If so, it will be roughly 20 percent more likely to have visual, hearing, or learning disabilities as an adult.

Pay-If-You-Go Prisons?

Inspired by Bernie Madoff’s 150-year prison sentence, New York state assemblyman Jim Tedesco introduced a bill that, as the Economist reports, would establish a “pay-if-you-go” model for prisons, whereby wealthy inmates pay for their own incarceration costs, thereby easing the burden on taxpayers.

Sentencing Discounts for Parents? A Guest Post

Should Parents Who Offend Receive Sentencing Discounts?
A Guest Post
By Jennifer Collins, Ethan J. Leib, and Dan Markel

Many states expressly tell judges to calibrate a sentence based, in part, on one’s family ties and responsibilities in sentencing offenders.

The Great California Prison Experiment

The A.C.L.U. has done it again, but this time on a grand scale.
I published an academic paper back in 1996 that tried to measure the impact that changes in the prison population have on the crime rate. It turns out that this is a hard question.

Where Do People Still Use Cassette Tapes?

The answer: in prisons, where CDs are routinely banned because they can be shattered and the shards refined into shivs. MP3 players are unavailable in most prisons, as are, one imagines, turntables. California-based entrepreneur Bob Paris got the idea five years ago to sell cassettes by mail to the 2.3 million people locked up in federal, state, or local prisons . . .

The Winner of Our Prisoner’s Dilemma Contest Is …

We ran a contest asking readers to submit the one question they’d ask to help pick a partner for the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Then we had a special treat: the University of Chicago economist John List (whose writings, by the way, were the inspiration for the contest) agreed to comb through the 350+ entries and choose the Top 5. He did . . .

Vote Now on the Prisoner’s Dilemma Contest

We recently posted a contest, asking readers to choose the one question they’d ask if picking a partner to play the Prisoner’s Dilemma. I did not expect this contest to generate more than 350 replies. Picking the single best out of 350 seemed impossible, so I thought we should winnow it down to the Top 5 and ask you to . . .

Prisoner’s Dilemma Contest: What’s the One Question You’d Ask If …

I’ve been reading through some economics literature on fairness, altruism, and the like — much of it centered on game-playing that is meant to represent how we make decisions in the real world. One common early game was an adaptation of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Here, courtesy of Wikipedia (excerpted from this book, I think), is a description of the Prisoner’s . . .

Looking to Live in a Community with Low Murder Rates? Try Committing a Crime

Crime rates have a large influence on the choices people make about where to live. The amazing declines in crime over the last fifteen years have been especially strong in big cities, a factor that helped fuel an urban renaissance. Ironically, however, some of the lowest murder rates are found in places where one might suspect just the opposite to . . .

The New York Times examines why crime fell in New York City

In yesterday’s New York Times, Mike McIntyre writes about the reasons crime has fallen in New York City. Most of the article is about how Mayor Bloomberg claims credit for his police department. The article then goes on to say: Academic experts cite several plausible contributors to the nationwide trend, including an aging population (young men are responsible for most . . .