Thursday, August 09, 2007

Costs of Non Incarceration

Racine County Board Supervisor Diane Lange has a commentary in today's JT. Her main point was to suggest that renting out our excess jail space should not be done without careful consideration. Fine. But along the way she throws in some gems like the following paragraph.

"Our community needs to better understand the massive and sometimes invisible ways that incarceration in a jail or a prison affects the families, children, parents, and wider community. Inmates and their families are finacially, emotionally and socially punished."

Liberals always seem to show great concern for the costs associated with incarceration. No doubt she is correct that imprisonment has harmful effects on families etc... but does she ever bother to consider the cost of NOT imprisoning criminals? Should a civilized society ignore the substantial cost imposed by criminals? Should we let bad check writers, burglars, drunk drivers, murderers, thieves etc... do their thing without considering the costs imposed upon their victims?

Suppose we did things Lange's way and only considered the costs of incarceration. Naturally we would want to lessen those costs by not imprisoning criminals. How would criminals respond to this kind of community decision? Would they commit fewer crimes knowing that they would likely avoid incarceration? Hardly. They would simply commit more crimes knowing the punishment would be minimal.

The number of crimes would go up and the cost of the increasing number of crimes would be paid by increasing numbers of innocent victims. I would rather our criminals spend some time in jail in the hopes that they may consider an alternative to criminal activity.


smallgovsam said...

Denis, I take a pragmatic free market stance on the issue of crime. Incarceration (i.e. the caging of others) is economically irrational because the confined person can’t produce capital of his or her own and others must pay for said person’s living expenses.
“Should we let bad check writers, burglars, drunk drivers, murderers, thieves etc... do their thing without considering the costs imposed upon their victims?”
I agree with you and am very tough on crime. However, victimless crimes like marijuana use or prostitution have resulted in unnecessary and costly imprisonment. The only costs associated with the activities above are incurred by the users whereas locking them up would take others’ tax money. Should we lock up, cloth, and feed people when society deems them criminals but have not even perturbed others? EVERBODY would save money if the government left potheads and working women alone. (Its Sam Braun, by the way)

Denis Navratil said...

Welcome SGS. I agree that there is a category of crimes that are essentially victimless, namely the two you mentioned. However, there is often collateral damage associated with drug addictions and prostitution. STDs and robbery come to mind. Even so, I tend to agree with you that those activities by themselves do not create victims, and there are already laws on the books to nab thieves and anyone who would knowingly spread an infectious disease.