Prisons Without Walls

Andrew Gelman wonders what we should do with financial fraudsters and other non-violent criminals:

What's the point of putting nonviolent criminals in prison? As I've said before, I'd prefer if the government just took all these convicted thieves' assets along with 95% of their salary for several years, made them do community service (sorting bottles and cans at the local dump, perhaps; a financier should be good at this sort of thing, no?), etc. If restriction of personal freedom is judged be part of the sentence, they could be given some sort of electronic tag that would send a message to the police if you are ever more than 3 miles from your home. And a curfew so you have to stay home between the hours of 7pm and 7am. Also take away internet access and require that you live in a 200-square-foot apartment in a grungy neighborhood. And so forth. But no need to bill the taxpayers for the cost of prison.

How does Gelman expect the average non-violent criminal to support himself under those conditions? It's not as if the formerly incarcerated have an easy time getting work. Adam Serwer flags a new report that provides some hard data:

Given the number of ex-offenders and the best estimate of the associated reduction in employment suffered by this population, our calculations suggest that in 2008 the US economy lost the equivalent of 1.5 to 1.7 million workers, or roughly a 0.8 to 0.9 percentage-point reduction in the overall employment rate. Since over 90 percent of ex-offenders are men, the effect on male employment rates was much higher, with ex-offenders lowering employment rates for men by 1.5 to 1.7 percentage points. Even at the relatively low productivity rates of ex-offenders (they typically have much less education than the average worker), the resulting loss of output that year was likely somewhere between $57 and $65 billion.