jail cellAre we on the verge of a crime epidemic? As states reel from tax shortfalls, some such as Wisconsin are considering cutting the prison budget by releasing prisoners before the end of their terms.

Governor Doyle of Wisconsin recently stated in his budget address that he hopes to help address a $5.7 billion shortfall in part by releasing non-violent offenders and felons early by cutting their sentences by a day for every two days they have served without violating prison rules. Gov. Schwarzenegger has already announced plans to spring more than 22,000 cons as much as a year and a half early, hoping to cut $260 million from the state's staggering debt.

In Steven D. Levitt's 1996 study The Effect of Prison Population Size on Crime Rates, the author concluded that each additional prisoner confined in a prison reduces the number of crimes perpetrated by five to six reported and ten additional, unreported crimes. Setting that prisoner free could therefore increase crime by this amount. At the time of the study, he determined that the cost to incarcerate a person, at $30,000, was more than justified by the $50,000 the crimes he would have otherwise committed would cost.

I have no doubt that putting criminals back on the street early will result in more crime. Nonetheless, I also expect this will become a widely-used tactic to cut state's expenses, until enough citizens suffer the consequences to draw the attention of legislators. The current dearth of jobs can only make the problem worse. Perhaps this would be a good time to bolster the locks on your doors.

Also read: job losses trigger familicides


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