How’s This For A Solution For Mass Incarceration?

Pay folks decently?

Here’s a new report that concludes, as The Washington Post reports, that:

..raising the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour could prevent as many as half a million crimes annually, according to a new report from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, a group of economists and researchers charged with providing the president with analysis and advice on economic questions. (h/t Washington Monthly)

On the other hand:

…spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration — a massive increase — would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent, according to the report.


More (and, dear FSM, better) police would help too, the report suggests.  Here’s a fact I didn’t know:

Research consistently shows that departments with more manpower and technology do a better job of protecting the public, and the United States has 35 percent fewer officers relative to the population than do other countries on average….

Spending an additional $10 billion to expand police forces could reduce crime by as much as 16 percent, they project, preventing 1.5 million crimes a year.

Ultimately, the point being made through the data is that locking lots of folks up is — my gloss here — the mark of prior failures.  Or, if you’ve got the Obama gift for seeing the policy opportunity as well as the yawning need, you’d look at it this way:

In the report, the CEA argues for a broader analysis of the problems of crime and incarceration, touching on subjects that seem unrelated to criminal justice, such as early childhood education and health care. The authors of the report contend that by helping people get by legally, those other elements of the president’s agenda would be more effective in reducing crime than incarceration.

Ya think?

Image: William Hogarth, Prison Scene from A Rake’s Progress, 1732-35

38 replies
  1. 1
    Mike J says:

    More (and, dear FSM, better) police would help too, the report suggests.

    The cornerstone of the Clinton crime plan in the 90s was federal funding to put 100,000 cops on the beat.

  2. 2
    Baud says:

    @Mike J: And midnight basketball!

  3. 3
    Redshift says:

    I wonder how much crime guaranteed basic income would prevent.

  4. 4
    MattF says:

    By the way, polls close tonight generally at 8 pm. My ballot (in MD) was scanned and presumably recorded immediatly after I voted, so I imagine that results from MD will show up pronto.

  5. 5
    Technocrat says:


    I’m excited by how a Basic Income is gaining mindshare lately. Even some Silicon Valley techheads are getting behind it.

  6. 6
    rikyrah says:

    Ya think?

    People with jobs don’t commit crimes?

    Well……ya think?

  7. 7
    p.a. says:

    you’ll never get anywhere in this country by talking sense. corporal punishment, that’s the ticket.

  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
    Hillary Rettig says:

    Big fan of guaranteed basic income.

    Getting rid of mass incarceration would help with so many other problems. The New Yorker had an article this week that was excellent/horrifying on prison abuses. There seems to be no bottom to this evil.

  11. 11
    tones says:

    @Redshift: all but the white collar crime, probably.

  12. 12
    Librarian says:

    You know what the wing nut response will be : “So now we’re going to bribe them not to be criminals? “

  13. 13
    gene108 says:

    How can you feel morally superior to people, if the poor are not starving in the streets?

  14. 14
    Technocrat says:


    Then we need to skip the “less incarceration” part and just say “Minimum of 7 billion dollars in savings!”, mumble mumble “other positive side effects”.

  15. 15
    MomSense says:

    I’m also a big fan of guaranteed minimum Social Securuty income.

    IMHO we really have to focus on raising the minimum wage. I honestly think that a $12 (would prefer 15 or 18) minimum wage would do more for our economy than just about anything else.

  16. 16
    scav says:

    @Librarian: rather like corporations expect tax write-offs and other bribes before locating anywhere.

  17. 17
    gene108 says:

    @Hillary Rettig:

    Big fan of guaranteed basic income.

    I like it in theory, but I am not sure how you absorb immigrants into the system.

  18. 18
    AkaDad says:

    This report is garbage. It’s clearly biased against my ideology and gut feelings.

  19. 19
    gwangung says:

    This and their response to health care makes think that conservatives always want to attack problems on the back end–when it’s more difficult and more expensive to deal with.

  20. 20
    Poopyman says:

    But but but … if we hire more cops, how are we going to afford all that high tech surveillance shit and high power weaponry?

  21. 21
    aimai says:

    @Redshift: Right. Ending the drug war and a guaranteed minimum income plus improved free schools (not charters) k-12 would pretty much end our crime problem, at least the kind of street level crime that ruins neighborhoods. We’d still have plenty of Bernie Madoffs.

  22. 22


    People with jobs don’t commit crimes?

    Of course they commit crimes; just look at the banksters.

  23. 23
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Let’s talk about the prevention of crime in the executive suite.

    No, let’s not. Only stealing from the rich is a crime. Stealing from the public is a virtue.

  24. 24
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @gene108: Once they’re citizens. This is easy.

  25. 25
    martian says:

    I remember reading some years ago that good economies correlate to lower abortion rates, too. Iirc, for many women, who would otherwise keep a pregnancy, they’ll seek an abortion because they understandably prioritize the children they already have, or because they need to keep their own heads above water. It will be very, very interesting to see how this plays out. Liberal policy solutions serve to strengthen the family again, is my guess. Seems like such common sense. Give people a little breathing room and they get to live a larger life in whatever way has meaning for them.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @MomSense: The problem of course is that “conservatives” are obsessed with the zero-sum game. Some obscure Scotsman pointed out over two centuries ago that the zero-sum game is not the be all and end all of economic theory.

  27. 27

    @Hillary Rettig:

    Big fan of guaranteed basic income.

    I like it as a basic concept, but I’m worried about the politics of it in practice. My biggest worry is that it will be presented as the universal solution to poverty, used as an excuse to gut all other social programs that benefit the poor, and then funded at a level that won’t replace the programs that have been cut. That’s avoidable, of course, but I want to see the details and be sure the funding is genuinely adequate before I back it wholeheartedly.

  28. 28
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @martian: But if you give them breathing room, they won’t be afraid.

    We can’t have that. Increasing stress is the way to keep the masses in line.

  29. 29
    MomSense says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    Fear and control are powerful drugs.

  30. 30
    martian says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Up to a point. But history is full of examples of the different ways both populations and individuals deform and finally snap under great stress, isn’t it? And there’s no way to tell which way the blades will turn once a revolution starts.

  31. 31

    With 0% reporting, CNN calls Maryland for Hillz and Trump

  32. 32
    Doug R says:

    Not sure how the math works on that universal income. Would that $30,000 be your basic exemption and all income above taxed at about 30 per cent?

  33. 33
    Shana says:

    @MattF: I’m afraid it’s a little more complicated than that. I’ve observed the closing at my precinct several times and this, roughly, is the process.

    The poll workers know how many ballots they had at the beginning of the day. They close out the voting machines and a report is printed out listing all the votes tallied and how many votes for each person. Write ins are listed individually. The total number is checked against the tally on the machines. They have to match. The numbers then have to be checked against the number of ballots that are left, how many were spoiled, how many people were checked in at the polling place. All these numbers have to add up. If everything adds up then the numbers are reported to the county or state. If everything adds up and there are no discrepancies that need to be investigated, this process will take at least 1/2 hour to 1 hour.

    At that point I would also call the county democratic committee so they know what the results are since it can be 1/2 hour or more before the total shows up on the state’s web site.

  34. 34
    Bob In Portland says:

    We’ve already given up on $15 an hour? Of course, the first concession.

  35. 35
  36. 36

    The Guardian’s live results are hilarious. The animation has the winner of each district paint their color on the district and provides a quote. Loving it.

    ETA: can not get this link to post.

  37. 37
    Mandarama says:

    The two things that would have made a huge difference in my childhood: A decent minimum wage and good, free early childhood education. My mom was trying to take care of 3 small kids, working only unskilled jobs, and no one really to watch us.

    I’m so happy to see The Rake’s Progress! One of my happiest memories of being a student in London was visiting John Soane’s house and seeing these in person. And I was recently happy to see that the museum partnered with Doc Martens! I’m too old for these now, but in high school and college I would have been thrilled. Wear the art.

  38. 38

    Also, it is time to stop punishing people AFTER they have served their time. Most states deny voting rights and access to food stamps and other support mechanisms even AFTER any time has been served. Obviously, punishment and shaming is far more important than support with rehabilitation that might prevent recidivism.

    The famous German poet and author Goethe once said in a poem in the late 1700’s, early 1800’s, “Amerika, du hast es Besser” (America, you have it better). I feel the need to correct this one time that Goethe erred: “America, you have it backwards.”

    (P.S. I doubt if there are any other former Germanisik students out there in Balloon-Juice land, if there were, you would get the inside joke. Sometime in the mid-1800’s, a scholar in Germany made the mistake of uttering in a book “Hier irrte Goethe”. (Here Goethe made a mistake.) His professional career from that point on was as a laughing stock and whipping boy. Goethe in German history and literature is right up there next to $DEITY. You just don’t say that Goethe made a mistake. He was the universal scholar of the his age in Germany.

Comments are closed.