The economics of hiring ex-cons

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Megan McArdle was kind enough to indulge me and do a post on ex-cons and the job market. I wanted to get the perspective of someone who wasn't like me (self-professed pinko, commie) and yet who I respected. Furthermore, I've really enjoyed the comments on Section 8, so I figured it'd be good to look at some other social issues. Anyway, I enjoyed her formulation of the problem. Also here are some of the solutions:

1) Reduce the number of crimes to things like assault, so that poor kids have as few opportunities as possible to make those sorts of permanent mistakes.

2) Less prison. Prison is awful for us as well as the prisoners. I'm not saying we shouldn't punish kids who rob liquor stores, but we could try to think of ways that don't involve shoving them into a metal box with a lot of other criminals. Here's where Mark Kleiman's ideas have a lot of merit--use intensive monitoring instead of warehousing. There's a lot of garbage that needs picking up on the streets of American cities; this is one example of something that would be a better use of low-level criminal time then staring at bars.

3) Tax breaks for hiring ex-felons, say for the first two years of employment. It will cost us more money up front, but less money if the felons stay out of prison--prison is extremely expensive, not only in the direct cost, but also because it makes criminals about as socially and economically unproductive as possible. Add a bonus for anyone who gets a sizeable promotion/raise, or skills training. Yes, this will be in part a boondoggle. So are prison building projects ardently supported by the prison guard's unions.

4) Small bonuses for the criminals themselves (or perhaps a reduction in monitoring) for things like getting their GED or staying clean for a year.

This is not perfect; the poor, and the criminals, we will probably always have with us. But it would be a hell of a lot better than what we have now.

Pretty good list, say I. But I wonder how much of our approach to crime is--dare I say--cultural...

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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