Sunday, October 6, 2013

JUSTICE | Teenagers in Prison? Bad for the Economy

About 71,000 teenagers are incarcerated (2010 data), i.e., 2.3 per thousand teenagers (10-19). The USA spends $6 billion a year keeping juveniles in prison. The average direct cost of keeping a teenager in prison is $88,000 per year.

When teenagers are put in prison, two effects follow:
  • They are less likely to finish high school.
  • They are more likely to return to incarceration as an adult - recidivism is high.
So a community that is tough on its teenagers and is quick to incarcerate is likely to be a community where fewer high school students graduate and more adults are in prison. This is a dual drag on their economy.

Alternatives to incarceration for offenses by teenagers reduce the effects described above. These alternatives include
  • Electronic monitoring.
  • Well-enforced curfews. (As in Illinois.)
The authors of the above research, Anna Aizer and Joseph Doyle, Jr., do not place a value on the deterrent effect of incarceration, because recent evidence suggests that this effect is weak.

The research is in NBER Working Paper #19102, available from

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