November 15, 2011
"Controlling Crime: How To Do More With Less"
The unprecedented surge in incarceration since 1980 has stimulated a national debate between those who claim that locking up over 2 million people is necessitated by public safety concerns, and those who say the human and financial burden of imprisoning so many of our citizens is intolerable.
Recent declines in some state prison populations do not reflect a “win” for prison-reduction advocates so much as the extraordinary stringency of state budgets resulting from the Great Recession. The issue will remain after the recession finally recedes and state revenues pick up.
Then what? How should we determine how large a prison population is “right”? One danger is that we may all get drawn into a debate that is much too narrow. The question of more versus less imprisonment emphasizes the division between those who worry about crime and those who worry about the costs of controlling crime; and it distracts from areas of potential agreement that arise when the focus instead is on the full range of policy choices that affect the crime rate.
If the primary purpose of imprisonment is indeed crime control, then what are the alternatives and what are their social costs? Are there ways to re-allocate our society’s resources to reduce the burden on society from both crime and crime control?
With these questions in mind, we have (together with Justin McCrary of Berkeley Law School) organized a new Working Group on the Economics of Crime under the auspices of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). One of our first products is an edited volume from the University of Chicago Press called Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs.
Our authors, a group of distinguished economists and other social scientists, review concepts and findings relevant to crime control in a number of domains, including the courts, schools, mental health, income transfer programs, and business improvement districts, with a particular emphasis on paying attention to results from randomized experiments or “natural experiments.”
The overriding conclusion is that there is “money on the table:” crime could be controlled at the current level at lower financial and human cost. Here we sketch our conceptual framework for approaching crime control, and highlight some of the most interesting empirical conclusions.
November 15, 2011 at 09:42 AM | Permalink
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