The high level of imprisonment in the U.S. not only suffers from diminishing returns but it might actually increase crime, says New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter. A growing body of research has concluded that the costs of the strategy are much steeper than prisoners' room and board. Anna Aizer of Brown University and Joseph Doyle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that putting a minor in juvenile detention reduced his likelihood of graduating from high school by 13 percentage points and increased his odds of being incarcerated as an adult by 23 percent. Bruce Western of Harvard and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington suggested that serving time reduced men's hourly wage by 11 percent and annual employment by nine weeks.
Today, a National Research Council panel (part of the National Academy of Sciences) releases a report on the the causes and consequences of the growth in American incarceration. Watch The Crime Report for more coverage. Tomorrow, the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project will present an analysis suggeting that less imprisonment might not produce more crime. California, which had to release tens of thousands of prisoners in 2011 and 2012 to reduce prison crowding, offers a perspective. Steven Raphael of the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Stoll of the University of California, Los Angeles say there were 1.2 more auto thefts for every prison year not served. Violent crime wasn't affected at all. Extrapolating to a national scale, they estimated that reducing the imprisonment rate by 20 percent would lead to 121 new property crimes for every 100,000 Americans, a 5 percent increase over 2012. This is a price voters, and their elected officials, might be willing to pay, Porter says.