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December 29, 2012

"Incarceration's Incapacitative Shortcomings"

The title of this post is the title of this thoughtful essay by Kevin Bennardo, which is available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Incapacitation is the removal of an offender’s ability to commit further crime. This essay identifies two distinct types of incapacitative effects: offense-specific incapacitation and victim-specific incapacitation.  The former focuses on limitations on the offender’s range of conduct.  The latter focuses on limitations on the offender’s access to particular populations.

As a punishment, incarceration incapacitates quite incompletely.  Because imprisonment does not render inmates totally unable to commit crime, it fails to achieve complete offense-specific incapacitation.  And, because it merely substitutes one set of potential victims for another, imprisonment fails on the total victim-specific incapacitation front as well.  Instead, imprisonment achieves partial offense-specific and partial victim-specific incapacitation by inhibiting prisoners from committing certain offenses and separating inmates from certain populations.  When the incapacitative benefit of incarceration is discussed, however, it is not usually described in such a circumscribed way.  Rather, commentators often state that imprisonment fully incapacitates by removing offenders from “society.”  Such statements, which implicitly discount prison crime and its victims to zero, are factually inaccurate and dehumanizing.  To avoid such inaccuracy and inadvertent discounting, this essay endeavors to accurately describe the offense-specific and victim-specific incapacitative benefits and limitations of incarceration.

December 29, 2012 at 12:04 AM | Permalink


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This paper is a step forward. It siddles up to the best incapacitation, the death penalty. The life of the prisoner actually has a negative value, generating costs like a natural disaster, across the range of human activity. So the cost includes the hundreds of crimes a year, accidents, irresponsible reproduction, abuses of family.

This is why 123D is the best approach to criminality. When you kill a repeat violent offender, you generate $millions in prevented costs, as well as massive amounts of human suffering. The amount of suffering is inversely proportional to the distance from the prisoner. So the family suffers most.

This review points to the inadequacy of incarceration. The main benefit is to generate government make work jobs. They do not address why such a failing system would endure for 150 years.

The death penalty works by incapacitation, and attrition, the killing of the criminal, ending the costs. Deterrence may or may not work. It probably does as the number of executions increases along the dose response curve. It is unlawful and injust to punish a person to intimidate a stranger, who may commit a speculative crime, at a speculative future time.

It would be fair to match number of murders. As these criminals kill our people, so we should kill them. Of course the value of their lives is less than 1 to 100. One innocent victim's life is worth killing 100 of them first. The younger the age, the more the crimes prevented. The count should begin at the natural age of adulthood, puberty.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 29, 2012 12:47:55 AM

If incarceration has "incapacitative shortcomings," one shudders to think how much worse they would be with non-incarcerative alternatives such as ankle bracelets and what is comically called "rigorous" probation.

Only the death penalty promptly administered has perfect incapacitative effects, and no sane person wants the death penalty for any but a handful of especially awful crimes. We are therefore destined to live with "incapacitative shortcomings;" the only question is how to alleviate them by more effective incarceration.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 29, 2012 10:25:58 AM

McGreevey, NJ Jail Program Earn Spot at Sundance

By By ANGELA DELLI SANTI Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. January 1, 2013 (AP)

The jailhouse treatment program where former Gov. Jim McGreevey counsels inmates has earned a spot at the Sundance Film Festival and accolades from the U.S. Justice Department.

Posted by: George | Jan 1, 2013 4:10:03 PM

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