Alex Tabarrok links to an interesting NY Times article by John Tierney on the benefits of spending money on prisons vs. police. One thing I learned from it is that New York did not follow the general U.S. trend towards more and more imprisonment. Here's a snippet:
Dr. Ludwig and Philip J. Cook, a Duke University economist, calculate that nationwide, money diverted from prison to policing would buy at least four times as much reduction in crime. They suggest shrinking the prison population by a quarter and using the savings to hire another 100,000 police officers.Diverting that money to the police would be tricky politically, because corrections budgets are zealously defended in state capitals by prison administrators, unions and legislators.But there is at least one prison administrator, Dr. Jacobson, the former correction commissioner in New York, who would send the money elsewhere.“If you had a dollar to spend on reducing crime, and you looked at the science instead of the politics, you would never spend it on the prison system,” Dr. Jacobson said. “There is no better example of big government run amok.”
There's been a lot of argument about private prisons focusing on whether they will treat prisoners too harshly, or perhaps too well. But perhaps the real problem is that when you have private prison companies you have created a lobby group that has an interest in keeping behaviours illegal and sentences long. It almost looks like U.S. politicians are on a mission to prove that the Marxists were right after all.
I wonder how much lower U.S. imprisonment would be if there were no private prisons.