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"Intended and Unintended Consequences of Prison Reform"
Dec. 1, 2009
Richard T. Boylan and Naci Mocan
Rice and NBER
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Since the 1970s, U.S. federal courts have issued court orders condemning state prison crowding. However, the impact of these court orders on prison spending and prison conditions is theoretically ambiguous because it is unclear if these court orders are enforceable. We examine states' responses to court interventions and show that these interventions generate higher per inmate incarceration costs, lower inmate mortality rates, and a reduction in prisoners per capita. If states seek to minimize the cost of crime through deterrence, absent an income effect, an increase in prison costs should lead states to shift resources from corrections to other means of deterring crime such as welfare and education spending. However, we find that, court interventions associated with higher corrections expenditures, lead to lower welfare cash payments. This suggests that the burden of increased correctional spending is borne by the poor. Furthermore, states do not change correctional and cash payments spending after their release from court order, making the changes in corrections and cash payments spending permanent. States' responses to prison reform are most consistent with the finding in the empirical public finance literature that the amount spent on particular expenditure categories is sticky and that increases in spending in programs that affect the poor lead to declines in expenditures in other program that affect the poor.
(In progress 2009)
Case Category: Prison Conditions
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