October, 2014

Prisonomics: Lessons from America's Mass Incarcerations

Vicky Pryce
  • David Skarbek

    Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Brown University
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In Prisonomics Vicky Pryce, an economist and former Joint Head of the United Kingdom’s Government Economic Service, identifies many of the costs associated with prison use. Prisons are more costly than alternative punishment and treatment options that are used in the community (p. 245). She contends that incarceration makes inmates more likely to reoffend than do community sentences and treatment, creating additional costs in the future. Incarcerating women, in particular, increases the social cost of prisons because someone has to pay to take care of the children, and furthermore, when mothers do not care for their children personally, the kids are more likely to become offenders in the future (p. 245). She also suggests that investing in alternative schemes, such as offering greater access to education and employment opportunities, would have a greater impact on controlling crime. To the extent that her estimates are correct, prison use represents the taking on of a large fiscal outlay and forgoing more efficient, alternative approaches.  

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