Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

This is the moment a peckish bird swallowed its fish supper in one gulp. The yellow billed stork positioned itself perfectly as it manoeuvred towards the red breasted tilapia fish before catching it and devouring it for dinner in the Zimanga Private Game Reserve in South Africa


Mass incarceration in cost/benefit terms

One of my favorite books I assign for any class is Mark Kleiman’s When Brute Force Fails.  One of his key points is that we make profligate and horribly inefficient use of our most scarce resource within the criminal justice system– prison space.  I love this NYT Op-Ed from Jason Furman and Douglas Holz-Eakin because it is a great, succinct summary of this key truth:

On the benefit side of the equation, prisons and jails play an essential role in managing violent criminals and reducing crime, particularly helping people in poor communities who are the most likely to be victims of murder, robbery or other violent crimes.

But a general rule in economics — the law of diminishing marginal benefits — applies to incarcerating additional people or adding years to sentences. Research finds that more incarceration has, at best, only a small effect on crime because our incarceration rate is already so high. As the prison population gets larger, the additional prisoner is more likely to be a less risky, nonviolent offender, and the value of incarcerating him (or, less likely, her) is low.

The same general principle applies to the length of prison sentences, which in many cases have gotten longer as a result of sentence enhancements, repeat-offender laws, “three strikes” laws and “truth-in-sentencing” laws. Longer sentences do not appear to have a deterrent effect; one study finds, for example, that the threat of longer sentences has little impact on juvenile arrest rates. Other studies have found that sentencing enhancements have only modest effects on crime. They are unlikely to meaningfully affect the overall crime rate or generate meaningful gains in public safety.

Moreover, in many cases the analysis suggests that adding prisoners or years to sentences can be harmful. A growing body of research shows that incarceration and longer sentences could increase recidivism. Individuals may build criminal ties while incarcerated, lose their labor-market skills and confront substantial obstacles to re-entry after release. A new study finds that each additional year of incarceration increases the likelihood of re-offending by four to seven percentage points after release.

The bottom line: The putative benefits of more incarceration or longer sentences are actually costs…

Incarceration plays an important role in promoting public safety, and imposing prison sentences for criminal conduct has moral and practical dimensions. But the criminal justice system should be designed to ensure that the benefits of incarceration exceed the costs.

Yes, yes, yes.  And much like our massively inefficient health care system, we have a massively inefficient criminal justice system where, again, the costs are not just in dollar and cents, but human suffering.  This needs to change.

Kasich on the Republican Party

From John Kasich’s interview with the WP Editorial board:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) criticized his party for a lack of ideas Wednesday in a wide-ranging and occasionally combative interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board.

Kasich, who sees the April 26 primary in Maryland as a way to increase his delegate total, argued that neither of his rivals could win the presidency, because of their negativity.

“If you don’t have ideas, you got nothing, and frankly my Republican Party doesn’t like ideas,” ­Kasich said. “They want to be negative against things. We had Reagan, okay? Saint Ron. We had Kemp, he was an idea guy. I’d say Paul Ryan is driven mostly by ideas. He likes ideas. But you talk about most of ’em, the party is knee-jerk ‘against.’ Maybe that’s how they were created.”

Yep.  The extent of Republican ideas these days (Reformicons, etc., excluded) is Caveman-esque: taxes = bad; government = bad; anything Republicans think is a good idea = bad.

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