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November 28, 2012

"The Micro and Macro Causes of Prison Growth"

The title of this post is the title of this very interesting paper on prison growth now on SSRN and authored by the always astute John Pfaff.  Here is the abstract:

This paper explores both "who" has driven up US prison populations in recent years and "why" this growth has occurred.  At least since the early 1990s, the "who" appears to primarily be prosecutors.  Crime and arrests have fallen, and the percent of felony cases resulting in admissions and time served once admitted have been flat.  But the probability that an arrest results in a felony charge has gone up significantly.  (Limitations in data prevent us from examining the role of filing decisions before 1994.)

As for the "why," this paper provides some evidence that, at least since the crime drop began, increases in prison spending appear to track increases in state budgets fairly closely, suggesting that increased fiscal capacity is an important causal factor.  It also looks at the politics-of-crime theories and explains that all previous efforts are unsatisfactory because they have focused on state and federal actors.  Prosecutors, who are driving prison growth, are county officials, and it is unclear that state- and national-level political theories explain more-local outcomes.

November 28, 2012 at 04:07 PM | Permalink

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Comments

'the probability that an arrest results in a felony charge has gone up significantly'

don't rule out the possibility of an increased amount chargeable felony offenses being passed into law either

Posted by: Lou | Nov 28, 2012 5:22:23 PM

"The Micro and Macro Causes of Prison Growth"

This is real easy to figure out. The cause of prison growth is that the public justifiably became alarmed at exploding crime during the 1970's and decided to do something about it. One of the main things they did was to stiffen sentences, often through guidelines and a proliferation of MM's. Because criminals were being sent away for longer, more prison space was needed. Thus the prison building boom.

It worked. When you put the people who commit crime in jail, and keep them there longer, you get less crime in civil society. This is exactly what we have seen. Crime rates, once headed through the roof, have fallen by roughly half, to levels not seen if fifty or sixty years.

There are those -- quite numerous on this blog -- who regard this as a bad thing, which is why we keep hearing outraged cries about how "the United States exceeds China and North Korea for mass incarceration," etc., et al. Normal people, however, do not regard prison as the problem. They regard crime as the problem, and, guess what, are really happy to see less of it.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 29, 2012 9:28:22 AM

The problem bill is while locking criminals for a longer time does slow them down. You still need to work on the rehab part since sooner or later they will get out.

That is where we dropped the ball.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 29, 2012 5:48:58 PM

rodsmith --

I would go further, and make successful completion of a vocational program mandatory before the prisoner can be released. If he comes out with no job skills, we don't have to be geniuses to figure out what he's going to go back to.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2012 10:05:51 AM

oh i agree. Of course a companion of that ideal is that after they get out. They need a realistic ability to move forward and actualy get a job without thier live history dragging them back down decades down the road.

Posted by: rodsmith | Nov 30, 2012 11:22:23 PM

It worked. When you put the people who commit crime in jail, and keep them there longer, you get less crime in civil society. This is exactly what we have seen. Crime rates, once headed through the roof, have fallen by roughly half, to levels not seen if fifty or sixty years.

Posted by: e-papierosy | Mar 4, 2013 10:30:33 AM

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