Prison Reform has Begun at State-Level

As an update to my post on whether the prison population is too overwhelming for taxpayers it seems that many conservative states have already taken the move to shorten small-offense crimes, such a minor drugs charges and open up drug abuse programs in lieu of large, costly prison sentences. However, California is one of the first liberal leaning states to really pursue this in juveniles as well.


Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina are first to reform their prison system.  This has come in congruence to Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama’s push to save costs by not imprisoning people found with small amounts of drugs. However, federal reform seems to take a bit longer on key issues.  Regardless of this fact, it is great to see that states are beginning a needed and necessary reform.


4 thoughts on “Prison Reform has Begun at State-Level

  1. This is an encouraging sign that even politicians can’t argue with math forever. The empirical question will be what happens to crimes rates as a result. It would be really discouraging to see the state lay off this policy of incarceration as the default solution and then find crime rates go up. We will see. Of course, as a 2010 NPR piece showed in great detail, there are some serious reasons to be skeptical about the accuracy of crime statistics given the incentives of city officials and highly pressured police departments. See the This American Life story of a police officer blowing the whistle on corrupt reporting and procedural abuses at NYPD:

    • Wow. That article is certainly interesting! I think you bring up an important point as that time will tell if this affects crime rates, but that crime rates in general are not too accurate. However, many economic crime papers use violent crimes as an indicator of whether crime decreased overall since the measurement error is less when talking about violent crimes. The article you referenced seemed to indicate in support of those papers as well, that lesser crimes are more likely not to be reported to taint statistics in a city’s favor. Although poor reporting does not reflect the true crime rates, measurement error can be minimized if all departments always tend toward the lesser side of reporting which would give research results a lower bound estimate.

      • I don’t know, Danielle. I agree that systematic over or under-reporting would probably wash out. Survey respondents might tend to add $10,000 to their annual income and it might not affect the relationship we are trying to measure. But do we have any reason to suggest that these local PDs are inflating or deflating to the same degree? Some may do it while other don’t do it at all. Some may feel pressure to inflate a favorable stat by a lot while others just a little. Such behavior would hopelessly screw with the results of any empirical measure.

        Also, the piece I linked you to shows that the NYPD under-reported serious crime to help the city image but tried to up their numbers of petty offenses for which they could collect fines, etc.

  2. I suppose there is no reason to suggest they are inflating or deflating to the same degree, but it is an assumption that can be made statistical inference. We can argue whether it is a good or bad assumption and I think I can agree with you here. My apologies about the misreading of the article, I didn’t fully read the 8 pages, but rather the first 2. The article does show that they need to hit a quota of tickets (which most cops do) and that they do not want to report robberies if victims won’t come to the station or if something seems fishy.( i.e. “If it’s some young guy who looks strong and healthy and can maybe defend himself, and he got yoked up, and he’s not injured, he’s perfectly fine—question that. It’s not about squashing numbers. You all know if it is what it is—if it smells like a rotten fish—then that’s what it is. But question it. On the burglaries as well.”) However, economic analysis seems to focus on violent crimes in using the data. Most claim that it is a measurement problem (which your article would seem to refute), but perhaps it is just the topic of most interest to researchers?

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