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High Supervision, Part II

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Kent's post about High Supervision brought to mind one I wrote three weeks ago about the things a career criminal can get done on Enhanced Probation.  The whole idea would be laughable, if it were funny.

It goes beyond air-headed callousness to put thugs back on the street knowing in advance that a very high percentage of them will do it (or worse) again.  The only way the let-them-out-now crowd gets away with it is by shouting from the rooftops the cost of incarceration while effectively censoring (by refusing anything resembling similarly robust coverage) any account of the increase in crime that is certain to occur.  What makes this particularly galling is that the additional crime will have, not just human costs, but substantial economic costs as well.

Indeed, now that I think of it, one thing our side could really use is a sober and loudly publicized study of the economic costs of crime, so that every time the NACDL et al. comes out with the money to be saved by avoiding prison and instead putting criminals on "high supervision" or "enhanced probation" or whatever the scam is to be called next time, we'll be able to remind them that the they have "forgotten" to subtract from their "cost savings" the cost additions their plans are certain to bring about. 

8 Comments

one thing our side could really use is a sober and loudly publicized study of the economic costs of crime

You mean using real evidence, instead of just guessing that it costs more to parole criminals than to arrest, prosecute, and keep prisons wildly above capacity, would strenghten your position? You don't say.

woods1028 --

1. Do you deny that a substantial portion of those imprisoned for crime do it again (or something worse) after they are released? Yes or no.

2. Do you deny that the crime thus committed has economic costs? For example, when the victim of the purse snatching gets pushed to the ground and breaks her arm, then has to go to the hospital to get the broken bone set, does that have a cost? Yes or no.

3. Do you think it's honest to tout the cost savings of emptying prison cells (emptying them of criminals who earned their way in) without even mentioning, much less giving a full account of, the increased costs to society, and crime victims, their release will bring about? Yes or no.

1. No.

2. No.

3. No.

Now that we agree that costs of repeated crime undeniably exist (which we never disagreed about in the first place), can you offer some evidence to support the position that those costs exceed the benefits of reducing prison populations?

You ask a perfectly legitimate question, but one that neither I nor anyone else can answer without knowing what the aggregate costs of recidivist crime are. Perhaps there is a study of that question -- if any reader knows of one, please let us hear from you.

I would make some observations, however. First, academia seems much more interested in studies about the cost of incarceration than the costs of recidivist crime, notwithstanding the fact, which you have conceded, that it's dishonest to tout the cost savings of emptying prison cells without even mentioning, much less giving a full account of, the increased costs to society, and crime victims, the release of criminals will bring about.

Second, incarceration serves an important societal interest; crime and its associated costs to victims serve none.

Third, criminals have a choice about how they behave, and in almost all instances know full well that their behavior assumes the risk of a stint in the slammer. Crime victims, by contrast, have no analogous choice.

In an argument where one side maintains a position supported by evidence (X costs Y) and the other side maintains a position supported by no evidence (we know W exists and it costs Z but we don't know whether Z is greater or less than Y), the side supported by evidence wins. (For the record, I'm not limiting "costs" and "benefits" to dollar amounts printed on receipts.)

You don't know that Z > Y , so you can't take policy choices based on that assumption. Not "putting thugs back on the street" because you guess that Z > Y is not a good enough reason.

Your response is either tautological or just silly, and right now just silly has the upper hand. According to you, if the aggregate cost of incarceration (Y) is ten cents, and the aggregate cost of recidivist crime committed by prematurely released prisoners (Z) is unkwown, I cannot oppose putting those prisoners back on the street because I guess that Z>Y.

Give it a rest. As I said in my earlier response, what is needed for this particular segment of the discussion is an authoritative account of the cost of recidivist crime. Perhaps you could point to one rather than just try for debating points.

But for however that may be, you omit entirely the moral, human (victim suffering) and ethical (lying to the public about how much of his sentence the criminal would actually serve) costs involved.

You are of course free to truncate the discussion in that way, but I shall not be joining you.

you omit entirely the moral, human (victim suffering) and ethical (lying to the public about how much of his sentence the criminal would actually serve) costs involved.

I believe I just said that "costs" are not limited to "dollar amounts printed on receipts". Those things count towards Z. This is how cost-benefit analysis works.

"Give it a rest." I'm not the one without the evidence. You are. I'm not "try[ing] for debating points"; I want the answer too. But you can't argue for less parole without evidence.

You would have been better off giving it a rest.

If the "costs" of premature release are not limited to the dollar expenses individuals and society are forced to bear to repair the damage wrought by recidivist crime -- and include, in addition, intangible moral, ethical and human costs -- then you are asking for a comparison that can't possibly be made, since every thoughtful person on the planet will have a different estimate of what the moral, ethical and human costs are and, even more problematically, how they are to be weighed per se, and in particular, weighed against the costs of incarceration.

If I wanted to be silly about it, for example, I could say that I estimate the intangible costs as being fairly represented as a hundred trillion dollars. That would vastly exceed the dollar costs of keeping every incarcerated prisoner in the slammer for life.

Therefore I win!

Except I don't win, because the cost comparison is just made up. There is not, and very likely can never be, an agreed-upon method for evaluating the intangible costs of premature release and the additional crime it will bring about.

But they're high, and at the very least, those claiming that the dollar cost of incarceration is TOO high need to tell us what, if anything, they're doing to offset their estimate of "too high" with the intangible costs we're talking about. But they don't (or if you think they do, could you give me a citation?). Indeed, they don't even, so far as I have seen, take any account of the much-easier-to-figure dollar cost of recidivist crime -- a staggering omission that, as you have agreed, is dishonest, as well as making it impossible for me or anyone else to compare even the dollar costs at issue.

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