Researchers from Rice University and Louisiana State University illustrated in a recent study that domestic policy encouraging a welfare and police state simultaneously are economically unworkable and do damage to the very people the policies were intended to help.
The study, “Intended and Unintended Consequences of Prison Reform,” examines the impact of Federal court orders condemning prison crowding and the outcomes among States following these orders as incarceration rates continue to rise in the United States. The researchers found that court-mandated efforts by the Federal government to improve living conditions in prisons resulted in less welfare funding for poor Americans.
“When courts are effective in increasing spending on prisoners, the legislature has to increase taxes or cut spending in other programs, given states’ balanced budget requirements,” said Richard Boylan, professor of economics at Rice. “As a result, most of these increases in spending come at the expense of welfare spending and/or other social programs.”
Before courts stepped in, States that ended up being court ordered to improve living conditions spent about 72 percent per inmate of what was spent by States that were not ordered to make prison improvements. The mandates resulted in increased correctional expenditures across the board, to 87 percent per prisoner during the year in which the court order was issued and reaching 102 percent two years after the court order.
The court actions led to lower inmate mortality rates (20 percent decrease), fewer prisoners per capita (12 percent decrease) and all-around better prison living conditions. But the results of the study show that these court orders resulted in a 22 percent decrease in the amount of money available for State welfare programs and other initiatives that could keep poorer Americans out of prison in the first place.
Boylan hopes that the research will underscore the unintended consequences of increased prison spending.
“These results are a classic example of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned policymaking in the face of limited resources, where helping one vulnerable population ends up harming another,” Boylan said.
According to U.S. Census figures, one in 142 Americans is currently in prison, and one of every 32 Americans is either in prison or on parole from prison. That makes for 6.7 million Americans involved in the corrections system. There are nearly 47 million current recipients of food stamps in the United States.