Council of Economic Advisors Report on Costs and Benefits of Incarceration Versus Other Approaches Incudes Excellent Arguments for Broader Impact of Access to Civil Justice

When the White House Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) speaks, the world listens.

And, indeed, when the CEA issued Economic Perspectives on Incarceration and the Criminal Justice System, it was a very big deal.

What was unusual was that the Report did not just report the costs and benefits of incarceration, but rather looked into other ways of reducing crime and concluded, with numbers, that a wide variety of of interventions would be far more cost effective.  Interestingly the Report concluded that the most cost-effective intervention of all was increasing policing.  It found that it is not necessary for those caught up in the policing to receive harsh penalties.

The detail of the Report is unambiguous about the areas of intervention that might be helpful.  For example, as the Executive Summary says:

Addressing criminal record employment restrictions, through expanding record expungement, “banning-the-box”, and limiting blanket criminal record exclusions in occupational licensing laws, as well as improving access to health care and housing can help reduce the collateral consequences of convictions.

Obviously these are all things that can be impacted by access to justice innovations, even if it is hard to change the underlying policies.

With respect to the job market (which access initiatives should be doing more to help):

Labor market conditions and increased educational attainment can have large impacts on crime reduction by providing meaningful alternatives to criminal activity. Estimates from research suggest that a 10 percent increase in the high school graduation rate leads to a 9 percent drop in arrest rates, and a 10 percent increase in wages for non-college educated men leads to a 10 to 20 percent reduction in crime rates.

Those advocating for the enhancement of access investments would do well to read and frequently cite the CEA Report, depending, of course, on the political context.

While beyond the scope of this blog, a full report of the relationship of such access investments would be a valuable document, both underlining the need for the changes the CEA recommends, and the potential access to justice contribution.  Maybe a LAIR/DOJ addendum to the CEA Report?  Maybe a Voices project (particularly since it is about the full Justice for All continuum of services outlined in the Chiefs’ Resolution.)


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Access to Justice Generally, Budget Issues, Chasm with Communities, Criminal Law, expungement, Family Law, Legal Aid, Outcome Measures, Poverty, Research and Evalation, Science, White House. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Council of Economic Advisors Report on Costs and Benefits of Incarceration Versus Other Approaches Incudes Excellent Arguments for Broader Impact of Access to Civil Justice

  1. Claudia Johnson says:

    I am sharing a recent blog we published on expungements and how some legal aid groups are helping people figure out if they qualify for expungements under their state law and then help them prepare the pleadings, documents with the help of legal aid attorneys, or pro bono lawyers. Expunging arrest records and criminal records is complicated, and few counties provide county based resources for those who come out of prison or arrested without charges. The AG’s Roadmap to Reentry initiative is to be applauded and embraced at the state level.

    Through their online efforts,legal aid groups and their partners collectively provided 75 screening interviews per day, and did 25 assemblies per dayof expungement documents (including weekends)–24/7. For those who succeed in clearing their records that is a huge step in reintegrating into their communities, having opportunities for jobs, decent housing, good insurance rates, and stronger relationships with their families and children.

  2. Claudia Johnson says:

    I am sharing this article on the Clemency Project, which has been helping non violent drug offenders submit petitions for pardons with pro bono lawyers.
    “Nearly 4,000 lawyers from diverse practice backgrounds have been recruited and trained. Seventy of the nation’s largest law firms have participated, as have more than 500 small firms and solo practitioners, and 30 law schools and clinics. So far, 30,000 applications have been processed and 700 petitions have been submitted to the Office of the Pardon Attorney; hundreds more are in the pipeline.”

    Read more:

  3. Peter Fielding says:

    Well it is the old story. Instead of pulling the bodies out of the river down stream why not go upstream and deal with the problem of how the bodies get thrown into the river. AKA: ” A stitch in time saves nine “. ” An ounce of prevention…… ” So where to intervene AKA where to spend the money.

    1) Clearly before the justice transgression has occurred would be socially appealing. This would provide the greatest good for the greatest number and thus be of utilitarian value . However would it be cost effective? That is another question that only study, documentation and analysis will provide some guidance. Based on the costs of incarceration we should all eat our collective hats if it were not so . However there are always the doubters who will need to be convinced.
    2) After the justice transgression has occurred is late but must not be wasted as an important social opportunity.
    3) This raises the more general question for the justice system to question their social purpose : the balance between punishment and social rehabilitation.

    It seems to me that the only good thing about the extraordinary amounts of money being spent on incarceration at present, is that the pool of money available for redistribution is also large and can and must be put to far better use in the interests of comparable justice outcomes as well as social stability and development.

    Peter Fielding

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