June 8, 2010
Kris Warner, Sarika Gupta, and I have a new CEPR report out today on "The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration". We argue: (1) the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world --ahead of Russia and Rwanda and roughly seven times the level in other rich democracies; (2) current incarceration rates are up about 240 percent relative to where they were in 1980 (about the time that the big increase started); (3) rates haven't increased because crime is up --the total number of crimes today is about the same today as it was in 1980; (4) the main factor driving rising incarceration rates are much longer sentences for any particular crime, primarily as a result of "mandatory minimums", "truth in sentencing", and "three strikes" laws; (5) lowering incarceration rates to levels we had in the recent past would likely have little or no effect on public safety; but (6) reducing the incarceration rate for non-violent offenders by one-half (by moving them to probation or parole) could save state and local governments almost $15 billion per year, about one fourth of their total corrections budgets.
The New York Times Economix blog reproduced one of our graphs, with some good commentary underneath. Kris Warner and I also have a post at the Nieman Watchdog's "Ask This" section. And Kris has a post at the new and improved CEPR blog.
UPDATE 06/12/2010: The "Hit & Run" blog at Reason (the magazine of "free minds and free markets") has a great post with "Three Charts to Break Your Heart", all from our report. As of today, the post has generated 221 comments. And the Utne Reader's politics blog has run our graph showing the U.S. incarceration rate from 1880-2008.
UPDATE 06/29/2010: The real-world economics review [pdf] has just published the paper in its volume 53.