Friday, June 20, 2008

James Q. Wilson has been guest-blogging at volokh.com. A big theme has been that the benefits of American prisons outweigh the costs, even at current rates of imprisonment. Among other things, I was glad to read to the following.
It is true that the proportion of inmates described as drug offenders has gone up dramatically, but as Jonathan Caulkins and Mark Kleiman point in their essay in Understanding America, very few are in prison because of drug possession. Many are either major dealers or plead down to a drug possession charge in order to avoid being convicted of a more serious offense. There are more than one million arrests every year for drug possession, but very of them result in prison or jail time. Cannabis possession, when it is punished at all, is typically with a fine or probation.
Nevertheless, while average benefits may exceed average costs, the inequality might run the other way at the margin. I'm especially inclined to believe this is the case for the drug war.

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