For a long time the simple idea that a person who is in prison can’t commit crimes has dominated our thinking about crime prevention through incarceration. It’s a straightforward idea, and it makes a lot of sense and is in fact mostly true. That person who is incarcerated, while locked up, will not be committing crimes. But that does not mean crimes won’t be committed.
So there are several problems with the central thesis. One is that most crimes that are committed are committed by young men in groups, and if you take one person out of that group and lock that person up, it doesn’t mean the groups seize up or stop being criminally active.
In an area of drug-related crimes, drug markets for example, there’s incentive to recruit someone into the group who maybe would not necessarily have been involved in it. And when the issue is gun-related drug crime, the idea is you bring a person in who might not have been involved in this way, and you’ll give that person a gun. So the crime rates that the community experiences continue largely unaffected with these one-on-one individuals going through the prison system.
The second thing that’s wrong with this idea is that we sort of have this vision that you locked this person up, that that person’s just locked up. But they’re not actually locked up. They are in prison for a couple of years or three, and then they’re back out again. In these neighborhoods where we have very large numbers of people cycling in and out of the prison system, you have this homeostasis of a bunch of missing men, but some are being removed every month and some are returning every month. …
That community is stable. The men who are missing are missing. The groups who are criminally active stay criminally active. And the incarceration experience has surprisingly little impact on crime.
Just to say it in another way, in 1972 we had about 200,000 people in prison. We now have about 1.2 million people in prison. We have six times the number of people locked up, and we have basically the same crime rate we had. …
Also, locking people up had a boomerang effect. So, for example, one of the things we know is that going to prison reduces your lifetime earnings by 30 to 40 percent. So if you have a neighborhood where every male has been in prison, you have a neighborhood where the men as a group are earning 40 percent less income.
A number of the men are gone at any given time; they’re locked up. And then the men that are there are not able to produce income to support families, to support children, to buy goods, to make the neighborhood have economic activity to support businesses. So for that neighborhood, the net effect of rates of incarceration is that the neighborhood has trouble adjusting. Neighborhoods where there’s limited economic activity around the legitimate market are neighborhoods where you have a rightness to grow illegitimate markets.
Then there are just dozens of other examples. For example, having a parent going to prison increases the chances of a child ending up in the criminal justice system by about 25 percent. So if you have a neighborhood where all the adult males are going to prison, you have a neighborhood where the children’s risk of going to prison … is about a quarter higher.
So we’re, in a way, in these neighborhoods with high incarceration rates, producing the mechanisms that lead to high crime rates.
I am all for humanitarianism, but I served my country and before I became an ex-offender with two college degrees I was still faced conditions of employment. After my first felony I was really not considered worthy of living in a decent place nor employment. These people are getting flights and ankle bracelets for free, I had to pay $300.00 dollars every two weeks to stay amongest my family. I am fighting various mixed emotions about this subject. We have a failed system no matter which party is in office.
President Obama calls it a “humanitarian crisis.” He has already requested $2 billion in emergency funding from Congress and in an exclusive interview with ABC’s “This Week,” he had this message for parents south of the border.
“Do not send your children to the border,” he said. “If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.”
Is immigration a drain on the welfare state?
Another popular argument for maintaining tough restrictions on immigration is that without strict laws limiting immigration, unskilled workers would flock to America to take advantage of its relatively robust welfare state. The economic literature in this area yields conflicting conclusions and varies greatly depending on the country being studied. Some studies show that immigrants take out more in benefits than they pay in taxes, while other studies show the opposite. But George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan argues that the welfare state in America specifically dissuades folks from coming here purely for welfare benefits. First, writes Caplan:
“Contrary to popular stereotypes, welfare states focus on the old, not the poor. Social Security and Medicare dwarf means-tested programs. Since immigrants tend to be young, they often end up supporting elderly natives rather than ‘milking the system.’ Illegal immigrants who pay taxes on fake Social Security numbers are pure profit for the Treasury. In 2005, Social Security’s chief actuary estimated that without all the taxes paid on invalid Social Security numbers, ‘the system’s long-term funding hole over 75 years would be 10 percent deeper.’”
Second, Caplan points out that most government spending is what economists call “nonrival,” meaning that the government “can serve a larger population with little or no extra cost.” For instance, he argues, the United States military could adequately defend a population of twice the size of America for the same, or just slightly higher, cost. “An even clearer case,” Caplan writes, is “if the population of the U.S. doubled overnight, the national debt (not deficit) would remain the same, and the per capita debt would halve. The lesson: Immigrants can pull their own fiscal weight even if their tax bills are well below average.”
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