Criminal Justice Game Theory Cited In Some State Corrections Reforms


While California's corrections system is a trainwreck, Texas has become a model for corrections reform, says Governing Magazine. Last year, at least 11 states, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio, and North Carolina, enacted sweeping corrections reforms somewhat similar to Texas’ with the intention of limiting the growth of their prison populations. This year, states as diverse as Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Hawaii are expected to take up corrections reform based on ideas that have played out successfully in Texas.

“The Texas story helped spawn a wave of reforms around the country,” says Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project. “We hear over and over, 'If Texas can do this, [the approach] can't possibly be soft on crime.'” Governing attributes some of the shift to game theory, which seeks to understand what is a rational course of action in situations where other people's responses determine outcomes. Academic game theorists have explored how promises, commitments, threats, the elimination of options, and other tactics can affect outcomes and the resulting “equilibrium.” In Texas and in a growing number of states and cities, policymakers have found a smarter approach based on a new generation of research that applies insights from the world of game theory to the criminal justice system.

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