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March 31, 2020

"Returning Citizens Should Get Checks Too"

The title of this post is the title of this recent commentary by Jennifer Doleac, which gets started this way (with links from the original):

Concerns over the rapid spread of coronavirus in jails and prisons have led to calls for inmates’ early release in order to reduce the spread of the virus.  As a result, jail and prison populations are falling dramatically.  There is good reason to release people who aren’t an immediate public safety threat — we are living through an unprecedented health crisis, and saving lives should be our top priority.  However, the rapid release of people from jail and prison, into an economy with skyrocketing unemployment, may set them up for failure.

Releasing people from prison at a time when jobs are scarce increases the likelihood that they will commit another crime and be locked up again.  This is partly because they themselves are unable to find a job, and partly because their friends and family are out of work and less able to provide crucial support.  Our rush to get people out of jails and prisons to protect their health may unintentionally make it harder for them to build stable lives and avoid criminal activity. For the sake of these individuals and their communities, we should move quickly to make sure they have the support they’ll need in the weeks and months ahead.

What should we do?  Send them checks!

People often think that jobs are the key to reducing crime, but recent research suggests that money matters more than employment itself.  Why?  Most directly, giving people money reduces the need to commit financially-motivated crimes, such as theft or robbery.  It also gives people the means to stay away from friends or family who are negative influences or might draw them back into old behaviors.  Extra disposable income also helps people access programs that put them on a permanently-better track — for instance, education or health care — and reduces financial stress that can hamper decision-making.  In practice, the structure that comes with a job doesn’t seem as important as the money that jobs provide.

It’s not obvious that giving people money will always reduce crime: If recipients spend that money on drugs or alcohol, the net effect could be negative.  But several studies show that, on average, more money equals less crime.

March 31, 2020 at 10:08 AM | Permalink

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