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The Human Costs of Lowering Prison Costs

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The headline argument these days for ending the death penalty and cutting back on prison sentences is that we simply don't have the money anymore.  I shall bypass the strong temptation to digress about how the same liberals who never saw an entitlement program they didn't want to expand or a welfare handout they weren't in love with have now discovered the virtues of frugality.  Instead, I will point out that saving on prison costs will produce human costs that, at one time, considerably troubled our liberal friends, and ought now to trouble us all.

The point is being made in an expose' series being run by that liberal icon itself, the New York Times.  The series seems designed as a hit piece on Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican hero, but it (perhaps inadvertently) draws back the curtain on what those wailing about "incarceration nation" would prefer to keep out of sight:  That as we forfeit the security of prison, we will see exactly what any sane person would expect to see  --  an increase in crime by those no longer constrained by being behind bars.

Thus, as the the NYT piece begins:

After serving more than a year behind bars in New Jersey for assaulting a former girlfriend, David Goodell was transferred in 2010 to a sprawling halfway house in Newark. One night, Mr. Goodell escaped, but no one in authority paid much notice. He headed straight for the suburbs, for another young woman who had spurned him, and he killed her, the police said.

The state sent Rafael Miranda, incarcerated on drug and weapons charges, to a similar halfway house, and he also escaped. He was finally arrested in 2010 after four months at large, when, prosecutors said, he shot a man dead on a Newark sidewalk -- just three miles from his halfway house.

Sure, we can save money by reducing incarceration and settling for cheaper alternatives like halfway houses. The question is whether the additional crime, including (as the article shows) additional murder, is worth it.  Don't look for our adversaries to be quick to answer this question, or even acknowledge that it exists.

Hat tip to Doug Berman at Sentencing Law & Policy.

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Just in economic terms it's a question worth asking.

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