The Crime Conundrum: Essays on Criminal Justice

By Lawrence M. Friedman; George Fisher | Go to book overview
programs. In other words, everything depends on the success of a large governmental bureaucracy, when the examples of such success are limited.
The shifting of resources from future imprisonment costs to current preventive care assumes that social costs saved in one setting can be freed up to spend in another. Yet some of the social costs of incarceration involve not the loss of tax dollars, which of course can be spent on other uses, but rather social losses that may fall heavily on the prisoners. It may not be the case that a social cost saved is the same as an equal savings in tax dollars -- even though this is the premise of much modern economics.
If the criminal conduct of the individuals who receive the benefits of prevention programs falls by twenty percent, true savings will result only if the criminal conduct of non-treated individuals does not rise to offset in some substantial way the fall in crime.

Much serious analysis needs to be done to fill the important gaps in our knowledge concerning these important policy issues. Is the elasticity of crime with respect to incarceration declining, rising, or staying the same? What are the long-term consequences of the massive increase in incarceration, and might they offset or even undo the beneficial effects of crime reduction? Can large-scale social programs provide the promised benefits? As such evidence is garnered, one can only hope that it will be marshaled in support of wise policy and not distorted for personal and political gain.


Notes
1.
James Q. Wilson, "What To Do About Crime", in Commentary, Vol. 98, No. 3, September 1994, p. 25.
2.
In his controversial article on the effects of the death penalty based on time- series data, Isaac Ehrlich omitted the percentage of nonwhites in estimating his murder supply function because he found it to be statistically insignificant. He speculated that the observed higher rate of murder among blacks was the product of their relatively poorer employment opportunities, which were controlled for in his regression analysis. Isaac Ehrlich, "The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death", in American Economic Review, Vol. 65, No. 3, June 1975, pp. 397,412. In his subsequent paper on the death penalty using cross-section data, Ehrlich did include a variable measuring the percentage of nonwhites in the state population, which he found to be "generally positive and significant in all regressions." Isaac Ehrlich, "Capital Punishment and Deterrence: Some FurtherThoughts and Additional Evidence"

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