Monday, May 23, 2011

Catch and release

The Supreme Court is making California release a bunch of prisoners in order to ease the overcrowding in their prisons:
Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.
It appears this is about 20-25% of the current inmate population (!)

Economists have used just this sort of natural experiment before, as loyal economonomist Exogenous Combustion points out:

In the long term do we expect more free-ranging California criminals to come out of (a) the prisons, (b) the woodwork, or (c) other states?


  1. Exogeneous CombustionMay 23, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    There's a great (old) job market paper by Amee Kamdar that relates to this ("Male Incarceration and Teen Fertility"), with a clever economic interpretation.

    She finds that for every extra young white male incarcerated, births by poor teens are reduced by 0.26 births. For every young black male incarcerated, births by poor teens are reduced by 0.11.

    Here's the clever part: why would locking up white males be more effective than locking up black males, given that black males appear to have more offspring by poor teen females? The idea is that the level of teen fertility effect for white males may be less, they are more heterogeneous: removing the worst white male has a real impact.

    Unintended consequence of letting out 30,000 inmates: something like 3,300 teen births, or about a 5% increase in California teen births. That California's teen birth rate is at something like a 20-year high may not be a coincidence, given that states generally start reducing prison populations once an ACLU suit is filed (the ACLU always wins these).

  2. She used Levitt's prison overcrowding IV as well. I remember her estimates (especially her IV) being too large to be believable, although it was a good paper.

  3. Exogen(e)ous CombusionMay 25, 2011 at 5:17 PM

    Note that both the spellings "Exogenous" and "Exogeneous" are acceptable in the word (though convention may differ).

  4. EC,

    I can find no record of "exogeneous" in my dictionary, in merriam-webster online, or for that matter More importantly though, exogenous has about 100 times as many google hits.

    However, I am not a language nazi, except sometimes as a joke or to give you a hard time ("misuse" does not actually *bother* me). In any case, I think Exogenius is better than both of these combined.