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Brendan Saloner

Very interesting, Bill. Thanks for calling attention to this article.

Three quick comments:
1. In addition to increased transmission of infectious diseases, incarceration also has an impact on the mental health of inmate's partners and children. It's generally thought that children will fare worse, for example, if their father is locked up, but it may also be the case that some children will be better off if a man is aggressive or abusive in the home. I think the literature here is mixed.

2. It seems like a no-brainer that we could get the greatest bang for our public health dollar by intensively focusing resources on returning offenders in the first month of release, yet post-release resources (such as transitional housing and substance treatment) are woefully lacking in many states.

3. Economists worry about unobserved risk factors that make it difficult to statistically match inmates to people in the general population, but we now have a very plausible natural experiment -- the court-ordered release of thousands of inmates from over-crowded California prisons. We will see what happens to the health of this fragile population once they rejoin the general population. (Ironically, the original litigation sued the state for failure to provide health care, yet many of these prisoners will leave prison uninsured and without any treatment options).

Bill Gardner

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Brendan.

With respect to #1, I agree, and agree with your caveat. Clinicians will tell you about cases where getting a TERRIBLE dad out of the family's life benefits mom and kids. W.r.t. #2, Kleiman's model requires that transitional resources be available -- his tightly monitored parole is in effect a behavior change program using the resources of the court to reinforce engagement and compliance. And of course you are right about #3, and it will be great to see the data you mention.


This argument combines very well with Kleinman's point about incapacitation. While it may intuitively make sense that "well, we've put the dangerous person in prison so it can't do any more harm", these prisoners are eventually released. Unless we have changed the behavioral propensity of someone significantly between time A and time B all we have done is DELAY the costs once they are released.

His astute point is that simple incapacitation (without concomitant deterrence/rehabilitation) is literally just locking someone up for their eventual failed release back into society. Meanwhile, those 10 years of resources spent keeping this one prisoner locked up was not used on the hundreds of new adolescents graduating into a world where they may develop the impression that crime is their most viable path.

Bill Gardner

Hi Will,
Again, another great comment. However, I didn't read Kleiman as proposing an incapacitation program. I thought that the idea was that small but quick and near-certain punishments actually promoted self-control better than huge punishments that were delayed and uncertain.

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