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Thread: When are too many people in prison?

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    When are too many people in prison?

    This is a section of a piece from the Cato Institute. I've cut only one section from the entirety (which talks about the impact of black incarceration rates versus the impact of black on black crime) because it dispells an importion notion: That the U.S. is more violent than other western countries.

    We aren't.

    In fact our rates of victimization are significantly less, per 100,000 people.

    When Are There Too Many People in Prison?

    So the United States puts more people in prison than other countries? By itself that isnít evidence that something has gone wrong. Do higher arrest and conviction rates and longer prison terms, and the death penalty deter crime? The evidence that punishment deters criminals is overwhelming. While that evidence should be sufficient, the United States has a high prison population, but the United States also appears to have a relatively low violent crime rate compared to most other developed countries.

    A sophisticated analysis wouldnít just say the penalties are too high, it would compare the costs of enforcement against the reduced costs from the crimes that are deterred. One good place to start is to recognize the benefits from deterrence. Changes in arrest rates account for up to about 18 percent of the variation in murder rates (see Lott, 2007, Chapter 4). Conviction rates explain up to another 12 percent. Prison sentences another 10 percent and the death penalty another 10 percent.

    I donít put much weight in the cross-sectional analysis apparently favored by Loury simply because it is much easier to control for differences across countries with panel data, but the United Statesí high prison rate is at least balanced off by a relatively low violent crime rate. The International Crime Victimization Survey (ICVS) indicates that for the violent crime categories of sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, the U.S. looks remarkably safe. [3] This is even truer for the more serious categories of sexual assault and robbery. Prison is costly, but one could only imagine how much higher American crimes rates would be without it.



    While murders make up only a fraction of violent crimes, they are by far the most costly type of crime. The ICVS doesnít compare murder rates. The U.S. white murder rate is comparable to many countries in Europe, and is just a fraction of Russiaís, one country that Loury compares the US to. The difference is driven blacks. Murders in the United States are overwhelmingly a minority problem. But the bottom line is that for murder deterrence matters. Even for the death penalty the vast majority of published refereed academic work finds that the death penalty deters crime (Lott, 2007, pp. 136-7).
    Cato Unbound Blog Archive Reforms that Ignore the Black Victims of Crime

    There is a common misperception that it's a bad thing that we incarcerate so many people in the U.S., but the fact of the matter is that there is a cost impact from crime that counterbalances the costs of incarceration. Just something to think about.

    The comparison of the crime rates, per capita, of these other nations, also speaks to gun control issues, as well. We do own a lot of guns in the U.S., but we aren't more violent than other nations...in fact, we are significantly less violent than many with strict gun control laws.

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    Last edited by Catz Part Deux; 06-11-09 at 02:05 PM.

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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    well, if your data is correct that more crime is committed in other major nations and the graph below is correct that we have a disproportionately higher rate of incarceration than those other countries ... we must then conclude that our police force and judiciary are extremely efficient. that is not the common belief

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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    Quote Originally Posted by justabubba View Post
    well, if your data is correct that more crime is committed in other major nations and the graph below is correct that we have a disproportionately higher rate of incarceration than those other countries ... we must then conclude that our police force and judiciary are extremely efficient.
    Not necessarily. People do time here for acts that they would not do time for in other nations. If left on the streets, these people are likely to re-offend. And, again, not be incarcerated.

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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    Pretty simple end the idiotic war on some drugs .


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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    Quote Originally Posted by Catz Part Deux View Post
    Not necessarily. People do time here for acts that they would not do time for in other nations. If left on the streets, these people are likely to re-offend. And, again, not be incarcerated.
    i guess that's the point
    if, as your data indicates, our citizens are less likely than most to commit crimes, why do we have so many people in our jails?
    or is it that because we have them locked up, they are unable to commit the percentage of crimes evident in other nations?

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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    Quote Originally Posted by justabubba View Post
    or is it that because we have them locked up, they are unable to commit the percentage of crimes evident in other nations?
    Ding ding ding, I think we have a winner.

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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    Quote Originally Posted by justabubba View Post
    i guess that's the point
    if, as your data indicates, our citizens are less likely than most to commit crimes, why do we have so many people in our jails?
    or is it that because we have them locked up, they are unable to commit the percentage of crimes evident in other nations?
    I tend to think it's the latter. We are much more likely to incarcerate people who break the law, and for longer periods of time, than the other countries in the comparison. If they aren't on the street, they aren't committing crimes, per se (though they may still be committing offenses in the prison system).

    I also don't know for sure what the impact of firearms ownership is on our crime rate. For instance, there are far more armed people here than in Europe, the UK, etc. Does that impact crime? I think there are studies that go both ways.

    Anyway, I think the common misperception outside of the U.S. is that this is a violent, lawless place. Actually, we're less violent/lawless, per capita, than they are.
    Last edited by Catz Part Deux; 06-12-09 at 08:11 AM.

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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    but then, look at the data for japan

    it has both a low incarceration rate and a low crime rate

    one would think that with such a low percentage of its population in jail that would allow more criminals to roam the streets committing crime. but the data does not support that conclusion

    and why does the USA, with 4% of the world's population have 25% of the world's imprisoned population. are we really that much more a criminally inclined nation?

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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    Quote Originally Posted by justabubba View Post
    but then, look at the data for japan

    it has both a low incarceration rate and a low crime rate

    one would think that with such a low percentage of its population in jail that would allow more criminals to roam the streets committing crime. but the data does not support that conclusion

    and why does the USA, with 4% of the world's population have 25% of the world's imprisoned population. are we really that much more a criminally inclined nation?
    because we can, and want to.....altho I certainly agree that we need to decriminalize weed....

    I have no sympathy for sociopaths who won't get a job.
    history is full of people who would rather steal than work.

    With the current situation, tho, I expect we will have higher rates of property related crimes.
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    Re: When are too many people in prison?

    Quote Originally Posted by justabubba View Post
    but then, look at the data for japan

    it has both a low incarceration rate and a low crime rate

    one would think that with such a low percentage of its population in jail that would allow more criminals to roam the streets committing crime. but the data does not support that conclusion
    I don't know why Japan's crime data is so low. Cultural factors, perhaps?

    I'd like to see the data on which your claim is based, by the way (25% of the world's prison population).

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