The Prison Guard State
This is a pretty stunning visual:
Law and order types will argue that this level of incarceration has coincided with a significant drop in crime rates, but whether that’s due to the locking up of millions of non-violent offenders, or whether that’s due to other factors is much harder to say. Prison costs have risen nearly as fast as healthcare costs over the past 30 years, and there is little indication that those costs are paying off.
If you’ve read Freakonomics, you’re familiar with the argument that Roe v Wade has actually played a much larger role in falling crime rates than locking more people up ever has. This makes sense, especially since many people who go to prison are never truly reformed by their prison experience. Quite often, just the opposite occurs. Years spent with other criminals is only compounded by the fact that it is extremely difficult for felons to find meaningful employment once they’re released. It’s a pretty ugly cycle, and one that has been repeating itself for an increasing number of Americans ever since Reagan took office.
The only bright spot in all of this, is that prison population has actually decreased this year. This has sparked a huge wave of concern over the loss of prison jobs. The tax dollars sucked out of the economy to house all these non-violent offenders surely has a much larger impact on economic growth than the loss of prison jobs, of course. But even our penal system, it appears, is subject to the broken window fallacy.