« "No Indeterminate Sentencing Without Parole" | Main | "Predicting Sex Offender Recidivism: Using the Federal Post-Conviction Risk Assessment Instrument to Assess the Likelihood of Recidivism Among Federal Sex Offenders" »

May 29, 2017

The Economist urges "Rethinking Prison"

20170527_cna400The current print edition of The Economist has a series of article on prison policies and practices. Here are links to the article in the series and their extended headlines:

"America’s prisons are failing. Here’s how to make them work: A lot is known about how to reform prisoners. Far too little is done."

"More women are being put behind bars. Fewer should be: Female convicts are less violent and more likely to have stolen to support children

"Too many prisons make bad people worse. There is a better way: The world can learn from how Norway treats its offenders"

Here is an excerpt from the last of these articles:

Reserving prison for the worst offenders has hefty benefits.  First, it saves money.  In America, for example, incarcerating a federal convict costs eight times as much as putting the same convict on probation.  Second, it avoids mixing minor offenders with more hardened criminals, who will teach them bad habits.  “The low-level guys don’t tend to rub off on the higher-level prisoners. It goes the other way,” says Ron Gordon of the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, a state body.

Modern electronic tags are cheap and effective. In a recent study Rafael Di Tella of Harvard University and Ernesto Schargrodsky of Torcuato Di Tella University compared the effects of electronic tagging versus prison for alleged offenders in Buenos Aires.  Earlier research had failed to deal with the fact that criminals who are tagged are less likely to reoffend than the more dangerous ones who are locked up.  The authors found a way round this.  Alleged criminals in Argentina are assigned randomly to judges for pre-trial hearings. Liberal judges are reluctant to hold them in the country’s awful jails, so they often order them to be tagged.  So-called mano dura (tough hand) judges prefer to lock them up.  The researchers observed what happened to similar offenders under different regimes.  Only 13% of those who were tagged were later rearrested; for those sent to prison the figure was 22%.

May 29, 2017 at 09:59 PM | Permalink


"Reserving prison for the worst offenders has hefty benefits."

True. We are doing that.

Posted by: David Behar | May 29, 2017 10:57:13 PM

Always the push-back David. Reform is not a dirty word. It represents, or at least tries to represent, a solution to a known and demonstrable weakness of existing systems and policies. The Economist evaluations are an important and timely contribution to the much needed debate, and especially importantly refer to the evidence base on which reform must be guided. Present systems and policies are fear-driven rather than evidence-based, and of course highly political .... all of which needs to change for the most effective reform to flourish - in the interests of all society.

Posted by: peter | May 30, 2017 3:54:49 AM

Peter. Remember when I said, one needs a 30% change to feel it at the gut level? The mandatory sentencing guidelines dropped all crimes 40%. The economy took off, and people went out at night again. I do not know how much more evidence you require to support incapacitation as the sole effective or even lawful remedy of the criminal law.

Then this decarceration propaganda is being put out the media such as the left wing Economist. So the prison population dropped 3%. The murders went up 15% in 20 big cities. New York city has a low crime rate because the police are forced to throw crime reports in the trash.

There is the little matter of forgetting something, the 15 million identity thefts, netting an average of $5000 compared to $4000 for the average bank robbery.

Do you think I should stop pushing back? Without breaching your privacy, do you live in a low crime rate area? I live in a lawyer neighborhood. The crime rate is lower than in the Japan. The death penalty is at the site, where 2 police cars sow up in 2 minutes, and blast the suspect on the spot. No Ferguson effect where rich lawyers live. Bill came from here. He can tell you how that works if you join him on Facebook.

Posted by: David Behar | May 30, 2017 6:21:41 PM

Peter. I am sorry to be repetitive, as to pushback. I have not given up on this blog. I do not try to pushback on the David Duke web site. He is a fixed ideologue. Doug still calls himself a professor on this blog, rather than a defense partisan. The professor ethos is to educate by presenting all sides of a question. Think of me as a teaching assistant presenting the victim side, while he focuses 99.99% of the posts on the criminal's side. Bill was the only licensed lawyer doing that. Fed is a specialist in another field. Soronel is an infrequent commentator. I would think, just to interrupt the monotony, Doug would want to present a story advocating victim interests.

I have thought of many concepts here that I would not have elsewhere, both for prosecution and for defense. So, Doug is doing a good job of stimulating new thinking. That is an important professorial task.

Posted by: David Behar | May 30, 2017 6:35:14 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB