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.)