It’s only when crime doesn’t pay that criminals will be deterred

In The Australian Monday 19 March 2012:

“Since 1999 Australia’s prison population has increased by 50 per cent. And with high and likely rising recidivism rates, it seems set to continue growing.”

About Henry Ergas

Henry Ergas AO is a columnist for The Australian. From 2009 to 2015 he was Senior Economic Adviser to Deloitte Australia and from 2009 to 2017 was Professor of Infrastructure Economics at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility. He joined SMART and Deloitte after working as a consultant economist at NECG, CRA International and Concept Economics. Prior to that, he was an economist at the OECD in Paris from the late 1970s until the early 1990s. At the OECD, he headed the Secretary-General’s Task Force on Structural Adjustment (1984-1987), which concentrated on improving the efficiency of government policies in a wide range of areas, and was subsequently Counsellor for Structural Policy in the Economics Department. He has taught at a range of universities, undertaken a number of government inquiries and served as a Lay Member of the New Zealand High Court. In 2016, he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia.
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27 Responses to It’s only when crime doesn’t pay that criminals will be deterred

  1. C.L.

    The study finds a 10 per cent increase in the risk of arrest produces a 3 per cent reduction in violent crime, while a 10 per cent increase in the risk of imprisonment reduces violent crime by 2 per cent.

    But what is the cost, liberty-wise, of that 10 per cent increase in the risk of arrest? Do we want to trust governments with that escalation? I don’t think so.

    Another point: the article and the study make reference to ‘property’ crimes but there is no mention of the failed war on drugs (which must be linked to much – most? – property crime, especially by recidivists).

    What effect would drug liberalisation have on rates of incarceration and rates of crime? The former question seems reasonably quantifiable (if, for example, certain jailable offences are abolished); less so as regards the latter question. We can’t know whether liberalising drug laws would reduce the crimes committed in that lifestyle.

    Random thoughts, anyway…

  2. Max Scream

    The article is actually about insufficient policing of the aboriginal population.

  3. C.L.

    No it isn’t, exclusively, Max, you dyslexic pelican.

  4. Boris

    CL I agree with your point about drugs but not your first point. I think we need to reduce the number of jailable criminal offenses but increase the enivitability of punishment. As it is, there are too many offsenses on the books, and police does not have anywhere near the resources required to enforce the laws. This creates the culture of impunity, which in turn perpetuates crime.

  5. Blogstrop

    In some states like Victoria the appointment of so many activist judges may have weakened this trend, exept perhaps for more convictions for the horrible crime of racial vilification (aka Bolt-style truth telling) or religious vilification for quoting truthfully from the koran to your congregation.
    The increase in this population can only be taken as an indicator of societal deterioration. The problem will not be corrected without a return to more strict training during childhood, with support from the community – who must share a set of ethical values. Hmmm. That could take a while.
    I’m sure the left will try and legislate the dysfunction away, when given the opportunity again.

  6. Token

    The problem will not be corrected without a return to more strict training during childhood, with support from the community – who must share a set of ethical values. Hmmm. That could take a while.

    I agree with all you say and that it will take a while.

    What chance do children have if this is the way their parents think?

    Nine boys and four girls, mostly aged 14 or 15, were picked up by police on Oxford Street, George Street and around Cental Railway Station because they were unsupervised, intoxicated, under the influence of drugs or in situations that put them at risk.

    …But when police phoned their parents, not one of them came in from the suburbs to collect their child.

    Instead, police officers drove the children home to suburbs as far away from the city as Mount Druitt, Quakers Hill, Hurstville and Earlwood.

  7. Chris M

    “each day of imprisonment costs taxpayers close to $300”

    Not if you use a sensible approach and house medium / low security in a Joe Arpaio style tent city somewhere out the back of Woomera. Why should these crims be treated so much better than our soldiers?

  8. john malpas

    Nothing to do with where recent migrants come from?
    Should have stuck with the law abiding English.

  9. Winston SMITH

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – house the bastards in tents and use them to dig out the dams that have silted up. Lake Hume would have been a prize example of this kind of work.

  10. Jim Rose

    if there are unsolved crimes, and there are, are there too few people in prison?

    There is a lively economic literature over whether prison conditions are negatively correlated with crime rates, consistent with deterrence.

  11. Jarrah

    CL is mostly correct.

    “We can’t know whether liberalising drug laws would reduce the crimes committed in that lifestyle.”

    We can. It does. It is hard to say what proportion of drug-related crimes are related to the cost of drug procurement (in a monetary sense and the exposure to the criminal ‘underground’ and all that entails), and what proportion is driven by the intoxication (or associated risk-taking behaviour), but the former will be much greater than zero. Therefore crime levels will drop, certeris paribus.

  12. C.L.

    We can’t, really. If liberalisation is followed by cigarette-like price escalation measures, users would still turn to crime to finance their habits.

  13. Jarrah

    It would have to be one heck of a tax level to compare with the illegality premium.

  14. .

    Not if you use a sensible approach and house medium / low security in a Joe Arpaio style tent city somewhere out the back of Woomera. Why should these crims be treated so much better than our soldiers?

    Joe Arpaio is a moronic fascist c**t and I hope he gets his one day.

  15. Jc?

    I agree 100% dot.

    He should have been taken down ages ago.

  16. Jim Rose

    Joe Arpaio falling for the birth certificate flap is sad, and shows much wider poor judgment. Obama’s birth was announced in the local papers.

  17. I’m all for dismantling the ‘war on drugs’, it would save us a lot of money, but I think criminals will just turn to something else.

    We’ve been blaming crime on the breakdown of public morality since the last ice age. But the rise of the ‘rights and entitlement’ mentality through the welfare state has not helped.

    I don’t believe prisons breed more criminals, it hardens a minority, most go off the rails in their teens and never want to go back.

    I think providing weight training equipment isn’t a good idea.

  18. Jc

    It’s neither sad nor poor judgement, Jim. Apraio is a first rate prick and always has been. I vividly recall Harvard Law prof , Alan Derschowtiz tearing him a new backside over a debate in the way he was treating jail
    Prisoners.

    He’s a first rate dick and doesn’t belong in the position he’s in.

    Stopping people in the street to check out their docs to verify potential citizenship is fascist.

  19. Chris M

    I’m referring to the system, not the person.

    I think a tent is fine for prisoners. And for illegal immigrants for that matter.

  20. Big Jim

    James Q Wilson, who died this month, was famous for his observation that falling crime rates were causally linked with increased incarceration rates.

  21. .

    Okay, which was the causality? Was there any decriminalisation going on as well?

  22. TerjeP

    I think that we need to get people off welfare and into work not increased welfare as the Greens argue. That can only be done by pricing them into the market either by reducing the minimum wage or via some form of employer subsidy or by improving the skills of those concerned. I think we have plenty of program’s focused on skills and we need to look at the price aspect more. The band aid solution is a tax rebate for employers based on the number of full time equivalent workers on the books. The rebate being high enough to drain the pool of unemployed. Alternatively we need fundamental root and branch reform of the tax / welfare system.

  23. Max Scream

    Not only is the article concerned mostly with the key problem of aboriginal incarceration, it even contradicts is principal thesis about the problem being due to insufficient policing and adopts a strict sociological approach:

    Those facts, however, are merely symptoms of the collapse of Aboriginal society since the 60s. And with Aboriginal incarceration rates now more than 10 times those for the population generally, imprisonment can feed on itself.

  24. hzhousewife

    The last thing a laybore govt wants is independant employers and employees – that’s why there is such a huge Public Service at the moment, it is soaking up hundreds of unemployed people, all churning $’s and keeping wages “high”. Employed people do tend to be less criminal in my observation, their time is taken up even if it is only doing mundane pointless things.

  25. AJ

    The increase in this population can only be taken as an indicator of societal deterioration.

    All violent crime except assault has fallen or remained steady since 1999 and property crime rates have fallen massively. The increased prison population is from less people being let out not more people going in.

  26. 2dogs

    The cost is exacerbated due to a failure to obtain economies of scale in our prisons. With only 500 or so prisoners, fixed costs in a typical prison make up a large portion of that $300 / day. We really need to be looking at less prisons with about 5000 prisoners each.

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