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Economic Commentary on "The Great California Prison Experiment:"  At Freakonomics Blog, Steven Levitt has posted his thoughts on the recent federal court decision to reduce California's prison population.  (h/t Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy).  Levitt's post discusses the results of a 1996 study he did on the "impact that changes in the prison population have on the crime rate."  To conduct his study Levitt looked at what happened to the crime rate after a case like California's, Plata/Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, was filed.  He found that after the case was filed, but before it was decided, the growth of prison populations would slow down.  Then, when the decision is final, the prison population "shrink[s] by about 15 percent relative to the rest of the country over the next three years."  Levitt saw this happen in California before Plata/Coleman's ruling, and anticipates, based on his previous study, that "ultimately violent crime will be roughly 6 percent higher in California than it would have been absent the lawsuit. That is roughly 150 extra homicides a year, 500 additional rapes, and 4,500 more robberies."  Levitt, a true economist, does not see this as a complete loss from the societal cost-benefit perspective.  "The money we save from freeing the prisoners is on the same order of magnitude as the pain and suffering associated with the extra crime."

Civilian Courts Cannot Interfere With How Detainees Treated:  At Blog of The Legal Times, Jordan Weissmann reports on federal Judge Gladys Kessler's holding that civilian courts cannot intervene in in the force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.  Senior Judge Kessler, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, wrote that not only would she decline to second guess the the judgment of Gitmo's officers because the force feedings did not demonstrate a "deliberate indifference" to the detainee's needs, but, she also wrote that although Boumediene v. Bush gave detainees habeas corpus rights, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 still prohibited civilian courts from ruling on the living conditions of the detainees.  She found Boumediene to be a narrow ruling where the Supreme Court had "refused to address" habeas corpus "with respect to confinement."  

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I expect that the additional 500 rape victims will disagree with Prof. Levitt's last statement. The 150 additional homicide victims will be unavailable for comment.

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