More from Shapiro on Prisons

To follow up the last post I wanted to point out this portion of Shapiro and Chen’s latest paper on prisons. They write,

For example, if upon release a low security inmate is subject to more frequent drug tests than his minimum security counterpart, our results may be picking up an increased probability of rearrest that has nothing to do with increased criminal tendencies…
While we cannot entirely rule out this explanation, we know of no federal parole policy that specifies a relationship between supervision intensity and security level of releasing facility, and we note that even the large differences in supervision intensity studied by Petersilia and Turner (1993) did not produce large enough effects to explain the majority of the effect we estimate.

I wonder if this data were available, how prevalent the effect would be derived from drug testing alone compared to other criminal behaviors. Their comment surrounds the scrutiny that ex-cons go through. I wonder if evidence would support the claim that drug use itself (rather than testing frequency) is correlated with harder prison stays. It seems reasonable to me that an inmate might pick up the habit to cope with being inside, or take up the habit when he gets out for any number of reasons associated with being released.

End of the semester rush and tons about prisons

I’ve been so busy with the end of the semester it’s been hard to keep up with the flood of recent talk on my favorite topic.
First, Jason Briggeman at Productivity Shock, put up some revealing interpretations of prison rape statistics. I think his estimates are accurate, and I commented on his blog that were it not for the conditions of incarceration a lot of these rapes logistically couldn’t take place.
Some additional thoughts: Rape and sex in prison is no new thing, it’s commonly reported by inmate accounts and ethnography work on the subject. But its pervasiveness is presented differently from the ethnographic research. One thing that’s overlooked in these statistics is the usage of sex as payment or the use of rape as enforcement in prison. There is very little work exposing how order is maintained amongst the inmate population. These statistics don’t show what a rape victim may or may not have done to induce violent aggression by other prisoners? Could greater rates of inmate conflict currently be avoided by the threat of rape?
Secondly, Marginal Revolution reports a new study on the training of prisoners to become better criminals. This was a hot topic around the eighties and nineties, especially after Reagan era drug policy the tough on crime tradition. But it has dropped off a bit since violent crime rates are generally down. The general wisdom on the subject was that prisons were filled with violent veteran criminals, then enforcement started sending non-violent drug users to jail when they came out they were prepared and trained to commit more violent types of crimes. This new study seems important because it focuses on crime specifically after release, whereas many studies in the past lumped crime committed in prison as recidivism.
Finally, the US has caught some flack in recent press (here, and here) for being the developed nation with the highest prison population as reported by the new DOJ statistics.

Another interesting aspect of graffiti

This footage makes a strong case for graffiti as art rather than vandalism. The artists paints over the same space over and over again – they don’t express a utility for filling up wall space to gain fame and recognition. The video medium and sites like YouTube have provided a less invasive way for graffiti artists to express their art.
Addendum: This brief in New York Times Magazine pushes the point that competition and discovery lead to less invasive forms of graffiti art. This guy actually creates art by removing existing paint rather than spraying new. This is quite the taboo in the graffiti community, unless the quality of the new piece is competitive with the old. I looked on google images to find pictures of the guy’s work, to no avail. If anyone has any luck please let me know.
Hat tip to my Dad for the reference.