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Whether prisons are effective for deterrence is an empirical question.

As it turns out, they're not particularly effective. The people who go and hold up a convenience store aren't doing it because of a reasoned cost-benefit analysis based on risk of capture, differential value of prison vs freedom, and future discount rates. They're doing it because they don't do those things.

That leaves three real reasons: 1) Reform 2) Reducing society's exposure to criminal elements 3) Punishment as a moral good in itself, as a way to rectify injustice.




> The people who go and hold up a convenience store aren't doing it because of a reasoned cost-benefit analysis based on risk of capture, differential value of prison vs freedom, and future discount rates. They're doing it because they don't do those things.

Conversely, at least some percentage of the people who don't have made that cost-benefit analysis.

Plus some part of the people who go and commit felonies, mainly the young and naive, have made at least some basic cost-benefit analysis; they mistakenly think they'll be the leaders/tough ones in prison and it'll be okay.

I'm not a fan of the punitive prison model, but fear of consequences is a good deterrent.

(I sound like an uptight prick, but I'm speaking from experience. Then again, I've never been in a US prison, so I can't say much about them and I don't like what little I know)


...and the point is that the elasticity of crime with respect to punishment is minimal. You're saying those people exist, which is true and undisputed, but they're relatively rare and statistically insignificant, and not a useful angle for thinking about policy.


To add to this is a simple truism, "people commit crimes because they don't think they'll be caught". Sure, it's not always true, but it encapsulates a lot of the mindset.


>As it turns out, they're not particularly effective.

..In the US.[0]

Everything you say after that needs to be filtered through the same lens. You seem to be making a global statement about why people commit crimes without a lot of support for it.

http://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-...


I’m mostly in column 3) which is why I support severe punishment (eg death penalty for almost all murders) but also more focus on guilt assessment (all capital punishments require a second independent trial with higher burden of proof and greater restrictions on prosecution)


And yet, power blackouts, police strikes and natural disasters usually lead to outbreaks of looting and vandalism.

At least some proportion of the population are deterred by the possibility of being caught and punished.


The main question isn't "Is the prospect of jail a deterrent", but "Is the prospect of 10 yrs in jail more of a deterrent than the prospect of 1 year in jail". The USA has absurdly long sentences for crimes.


That was not the question I was responding to, which made no reference to the length of sentences. It argued that prisons were not an effective deterrent (i.e.: at all), moreover there seems to be a school of thought that we should never punish crime, at all.

I said nothing about adding ten years to sentence lengths. I don’t know, and don’t claim to know what the optimal length of sentence (or other punishment) is, except that it is not zero.


Of being caught. Police presence is the deterrent, not the potential punishment.

This seems weird to you because it's not how your mind works, but it's what the data indicates.


Exactly. People do not commit crimes with the expectation of being caught; it’s why the death penalty is terrible deterrence.


Capitol punishment is however a complete solution to recidivism for violent crime, undeniably.


Challenge accepted: I'll deny it.

It's only a "complete" solution if you actually have the right person.


Challenge defeated:

The term recidivism means "the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend."

Thus it only applies to the already convicted. If they weren't caught and convicted, and they reoffend, it's not recidivism.


Touché.




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