Intended and Unintended Consequences of Prison Reform
Boylan, Richard T.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in May 2011 that prison overcrowding in California constituted cruel and unusual punishment. This decision revived a long-standing debate among scholars and policy makers as to whether courts should intervene to protect the well-being of the disfranchised, by forcing states to improve schools, prisons, and mental institutions. We use data that span 1951-2006 to examine the impact of federal court orders condemning prison crowding, and the impact of statesﾒ releases from these court orders. We find that these interventions are associated with lower inmate mortality rates and fewer prisoners per capita. Correctional expenditures increase and welfare cash expenditures decrease while states are under court order, suggesting that the burden of improved prison conditions is borne by welfare recipients. Furthermore, states do not alter correctional spending and welfare cash payments spending after their release from court order, making the original changes in spending permanent. (JEL H7, I38, K4)