Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2013

Abstract

With one in 100 adult Americans behind bars, and prison budgets consuming an increasing share of state budgets, few social policy issues compare in significance to the debate over which criminal offenders should be incarcerated and for how long. David Abrams' article, The Impriasoner's Dilemma: A Cost-Benefit Approach to Incarceration,' makes an important contribution to that debate, offering an economic approach to assessing the net benefits of holding or freeing prisoners on the incarceration margin. In this short Response, I first highlight several strengths of Abrams' piece and discuss the possible case that could be made for incorporating formal cost-benefit analysis ("CBA") as a routine part of criminal justice policymaking, as well as some potential objections. Second, I offer more specific critical comments focused on Abrams' analysis of the costs of incarceration, which I find to be less fully developed than his discussion of its benefits. Finally, I close with some brief thoughts on an issue Abrams makes a point of leaving open: the role that retributive justice concerns should play in an analysis of incarceration's costs and benefits.


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