Monday, August 01, 2011
Should Prisons Run on a Voucher System?
A few weeks ago I had the chance to read Sasha Volokh's interesting papers concerning prisons and innovation. The paper I want to discuss briefly in this post is his paper on Prison Vouchers forthcoming in the U. Pa. L. Review.
Sasha offers us a nearly perfectly executed thought experiment paper centered on the idea: what if prisons were run on a voucher system? It's such a quirky and seemingly off-the-wall idea. But he does what good academics should do: he unsettles our intuitions and takes creative arguments out for a walk.
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My very first post for Prawfsblawg, three years ago, pressed the idea of treating prisons more like schools, on the theory that, if we conservatives are serious about reforming one governmental institution (schools) with market reforms, then we ought to be equally serious about reforming others that are more beloved by conservative voters -- namely prisons. My own proposal was to use merit pay for prison wardens, rewarding with salary bonuses those wardens whose prisons produced lower recidivism rates and higher rehab rates from former inmates. If one distrusts teachers and principals to produce good results for their custodial charges without market incentives, then one should distrust prison wardens as much if not more.
Sasha's proposal is in the same spirit as mine and will, I suspect, win about as much support from so-called conservatives or Republicans -- namely, zero -- simply because principled distrust of government officials has no natural home in any party or movement today.
It would be interesting to know whether the usual objections to vouchers (skimming the cream, imposing externalities on those who make poor choices, etc) will be trotted out by conservatives who usually deplore such positions when used to attack student voucher proposals. Probably: I found that conservatives denounced merit pay for prison wardens by arguing that wardens could not be held responsible for the prisoners' post-incarceration behavior, given how many factors other than prison conditions contributed to that behavior. The same critics had no difficulty believing that teachers' pay could be varied with students' test scores.
The indifference of conservatives and Republicans to the reform of prisons is the most striking evidence that their anti-statist rhetoric is so much insincere blather. But it does not hurt to come up with smart proposals like Sasha's just to smoke out how resoundingly indifferent conservatives are to limits on state power whenever those limits tread on conservatives' favorite state institutions.
Posted by: Rick Hills | Aug 1, 2011 6:13:26 PM
Rick, I'm glad you reminded me of that fascinating post. More evidence, of course, that you should be submitting your blog posts to the folks at the NYT oped page!
Posted by: Dan Markel | Aug 1, 2011 10:27:32 PM
"the work of folks like Tom Tyler or Robinson and Darley"
I was led here from a VC post, and I've never heard of those people. I am interested thought. Anything in particular to recommend?
Posted by: TGGP | Aug 3, 2011 12:48:37 AM