Results for “police prisons”
20 found

Debtor’s Prison for Failure to Pay for Your Own Trial

Debtor’s prisons are supposed to be illegal in the United States but today poor people who fail to pay even small criminal justice fees are routinely being imprisoned. The problem has gotten worse recently because strapped states have dramatically increased the number of criminal justice fees. In Pennsylvania, for example, the criminal court charges for police transport, sheriff costs, state court costs, postage, and “judgment.” Many of these charges are not for any direct costs imposed by the criminal but have been added as revenue enhancers. A $5 fee, for example, supports the County Probation Officers’ Firearms Training Fund, an $8 fee supports the Judicial Computer Project, a $250 fee goes to the DNA Detection Fund. Convicted criminals may face dozens of fees (not including fines and restitution) totaling a substantial burden for people of limited means. Fees do not end outside the courtroom. Jailed criminals can be charged for room and board and for telephone use, haircuts, drug tests, transportation, booking, and medical co-pays. In Arizona, visitors to a prison are now charged a $25 maintenance fee. In PA in order to get parole there is a mandatory charge of $60. While on parole, defendants may be further assessed counseling, testing and other fees. Interest builds unpaid fees larger and larger. In Washington state unpaid legal debt accrues at an interest rate of 12%. As a result, the median person convicted in WA sees their criminal justice debt grow larger over time.

Many states are now even charging the accused to apply for and use a public defender! As a result, some defendants are discouraged from exercising their rights to an attorney.

Most outrageously, in some states public defender, pre-trial jail and other court fees can be assessed on individuals even when they are not convicted of any crime. Failure to pay criminal justice fees can result in revocation of an individual’s drivers license, arrest and imprisonment. Individuals with revoked licenses who drive (say to work to earn money to pay their fees) and are apprehended can be further fined and imprisoned. Unpaid criminal justice debt also results in damaged credit reports and reduced housing and employment prospects. Furthermore, failure to pay fees can mean a violation of probation and parole terms which makes an individual ineligible for Federal programs such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Family funds and Social Security Income for the elderly and disabled.

It’s difficult to argue against criminal justice fees for those who can pay, but for those who cannot– and most criminal defendants are poor–such fees can be a personal and public policy disaster. Criminal justice debt drags people further away from reintegration with civil society. A person’s life can spiral out of their control when interest, late fees, revocation of a driver’s license and ineligibility for public assistance, mean that unpaid criminal justice debt snowballs. You can’t get blood from a stone but if you try, you can break the stone.

Optimal punishment is swift and sure but also has a defined endpoint. As with bankruptcy, punishment must end, leaving both hope and opportunity. We used to release criminals without a nickel or a nail but with an understanding that their debt to society had been paid. Today, we release criminals with a ball of debt that chains them to the criminal justice system and which can pull them back into prison long after their sentences have been served. Releasing people with little hope or opportunity for reintegration with civil society is good for neither the releasees nor society.

Bill James pursues serial killers

That’s right, the baseball guy with superb skills of pattern recognition.  The article is interesting throughout.  Here is one James proposal:

James also posits a way to reform prisons, which he dubs “violentocracies.” His proposal: smaller facilities that house no more than 24 inmates and are part of a larger, incentives-based system. At a Level 1 prison, for example, you get a lawyer, a Bible, and around-the-clock supervision; at Level 5, a cat and a coffee machine. At Level 10, you can earn a living and come and go with relative ease. The idea, James says, is not only to reduce the paranoia-fueled violence in large prisons but to encourage prisoners to work their way up the ladder.

The core of the article is more like this:

In reading so many crime stories over the years, James was surprised that so many weak descriptions are taken seriously, while so many good ones go unheeded. In his system, police would rank eyewitness accounts, from a few basic details about the suspect’s height or race (Level 1) to IDing your neighbor as he moves a body out of the garage freezer in broad daylight (Level 6). These scales could later be applied to James’ 100-point conviction system.

For the pointer I thank Brent Depperschmidt.

Is Freakonomics Ruining Economics?

Writing in the April 02 issue of the New Republic, Noam Scheiber
argues Yes.  The article is no screed – it’s
well informed about economics and the state of the profession.  Unfortunately, it’s gated but do try find a copy somewhere.  This bit gives some of the flavor.

Several years after his paper on schooling, Angrist noticed
that the Armed Forces Qualifying Test had been misgraded for a few
years in the late ’70s. This had opened the doors to thousands of
subpar applicants and allowed Angrist to compare the lucky
underachievers with the people rejected once the glitch got corrected,
thereby isolating the impact of military service on wages. The
practical effect was to send the grad students scrambling to find other
instances in which life-altering decisions had been handed down
incorrectly. In 2000, a Harvard professor named Caroline Hoxby
discovered that streams had often formed boundaries to
nineteenth-century school districts, so that cities with more streams
historically had more school districts, even if some districts had
later merged. The discovery allowed Hoxby to show that competition
between districts improved schools. It also prompted the Harvard
students to wrack their brains for more ways in which arbitrary
boundaries had placed similar people in different circumstances.

Every few weeks, when a student would stumble onto some new
test-grading error or fatefully drawn boundary–what economists call
"instruments"–word of the discovery would rocket through the
department. The discoverer would become instantly, if momentarily,
famous, like the holder of a winning card at a Bingo hall, and
inspiring the same mix of reverence and jealousy. A typical
conversation around the snack machine at the National Bureau of
Economic Research, where many Harvard students had cubicles, went
something like: Hey, did you hear that so-and-so found this crazy
example of excess tax refunds in western Manitoba in the early ’60s? At
which point the other would reply, Uh, no, wow, that’s, uh, great, and
then scamper back to his desk to brainstorm for some similar quirk of
public policy. At an age when most people brood that life is too random
and arbitrary, these people’s biggest complaint was that it wasn’t
random and arbitrary enough.

In retrospect, I have come to see this as the moment I realized
economics had a cleverness problem. How was it that these students, who
had arrived at the country’s premier economics department intending to
solve the world’s most intractable problems–poverty, inequality,
unemployment–had ended up facing off in what sometimes felt like an
academic parlor game?

I think Scheiber is off in a few ways.  First, he conflates methods and
questions.  It’s true that clean identification is often found with
quirky experiments but a quirky experiment does not necessarily imply a
quirky question.  Hoxby’s work on education, mentioned above, is asking
a big question about the effect of competition on schools.  Levitt’s work
on crime uses quirks in police assignment as do those of his "pale imitators" (like those
guys that used terror alert levels
to estimate the effectiveness of police on the street.  Ha, ha!) but we
spend well over 100 billion dollars a year combating crime so it’s
pretty damn important to know how well police, prisons and punishment
work.  Scheiber criticizes Emily Oster’s work but his criticism has
nothing to do with his thesis, Oster’s work on AIDS, missing women and
so forth is on big questions. It’s possible to be clever and to think

The second problem is to think that if only people did less Freakonomics they
would do more big think economics.  If only it were so.  The truth is
that even today most of economics is a wasteland of boring papers on
profoundly uninteresting questions.  The choice is not Levitt v.
Heckman it’s Levitt and Heckman (and many others like Buchanan who neither Levitt nor Heckman might appreciate) versus a huge number of non-entities (many
highly paid and famous) who answer trivial questions poorly and do it
without even the courtesy of offering some entertainment on the

Addendum: Tyler has the first comment.

Explaining Regression

During his Daily Show appearance Steve Levitt said that in estimating the effect of abortion on crime he controlled for other variables like police and prisons.  Jon Stewart pressed Steve for an explanation of how someone could "control" for other variables – amazingly, Stewart seemed genuinely interested in an answer but, wisely, Steve demurred.  The exchange got me to thinking, What is the shortest, non-technical, yet reasonably accurate explanation of how this is done?

I think the way to go is to use the Frisch-Waugh-Lovell Theorem.  Here’s my attempt:

Suppose you want to figure out the effect of weight on life expectancy.  Heavy people tend to be tall so you have to control for height.  You can do this with a two-step procedure.  First, calculate how height correlates with weight.  Let’s say that you discover that every 1 inch increase in height above say 5’7 correlates with a 5 pound increase in weight; you now subtract from each person’s weight that portion which can be explained by height.  For example, you would subtract 5 pounds from everyone in the data of height 5’8 and 10 pounds from everyone who is 5’9.   Since height doesn’t explain weight perfectly, you are left with a new variable, weight2.  In the second step, you calculate how life expectancy correlates with weight2, since weight2 is "weight after controlling for height" you have now calculated the effect on life expectancy of weight after controlling for height.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that this is what Steve should have said!  (If asked I would have said, "Well, I could tell you that Jon, but then I would have to bore you.")  I’ve opened the comments section if you have some other ideas.

By the way the ubiquitous Steve Levitt will be here on Wednesday, but I repeat myself.

Against Broken Windows

James Q. Wilson’s broken windows theory is simple: broken windows, or other symbols of public disorder, invite crime. Thus, if you clean up the neighborhood, crime should go away. The NY Times discusses research conducted by Felton Earls, Rob Samson, Steve Raudenbush and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn testing this theory. They drove an SUV through *thousands* of Chicago streets and recorded with a video camera just about everything that was visible on the street – garbage, loitering, grafitti, etc. They also had data on crime and the attitudes and behavior of residents. Analysis of data showed that public signs of disorder such as garbage were not linked to crime. Instead, concentrated poverty and the willingness of residents to self-police (“collective efficacy”) explained the incidence of crime. The Times quotes Earls:

“If you got a crew to clean up the mess,” Dr. Earls said, “it would last for two weeks and go back to where it was. The point of intervention is not to clean up the neighborhood, but to work on its collective efficacy. If you organized a community meeting in a local church or school, it’s a chance for people to meet and solve problems.

“If one of the ideas that comes out of the meeting is for them to clean up the graffiti in the neighborhood, the benefit will be much longer lasting, and will probably impact the development of kids in that area. But it would be based on this community action – not on a work crew coming in from the outside.”

This point should be taken to heart by all students of crime. Yes, of course, police are necessary for public order and safety. But the police are finite resource – they can’t possibly monitor every street and corner. Thus, on a fundamental level, public safety comes from a community’s ability to regulate itself. The next time you hear a call for more police, or more prisons, or more public works, think about this insight.

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