South-Western College Publishing - Economics  
Welcome Back to the Bosom of Society…and by the way, That'll Be $127,000.
Topic Economic Analysis; Government and the Economy; Scarcity, Choice, and Opportunity Cost
Subject Costs to convicts of absolving themselves of crimes can be significant.
Key Words court costs, add-ons, incarceration, opportunity cost, external costs, efficiency.
Full Article

If you have an InfoTrac or BCRC access code, click on the appropriate source to login and view the full text article.
Reference ID: A142409894

News Story At this point, people who have been imprisoned have an increasingly difficult task to become productive members of society. And the discrimination is all legal.

In an effort to control costs, court systems around the country have been charging convicts fees for use of the judicial and penal systems. Costs include court costs, restitution, charitable contributions, costs to provide their own DNA in a database for future use, and the list goes on. In fact, even public defense is no longer free. In Georgia, legal fees known as add-ons effectively force those who cannot afford to hire attorneys to pay for the "free" lawyer provided to them. Such costs can be prohibitive. In one case in Washington state, a woman convicted of growing marijuana was assessed fees totaling $1,610-her assessed contribution to a "drug enforcement fund, a "victim assessment fee," and court costs. The woman, disabled after a traffic accident, pays $10 a month toward her debt, which accumulates interest at 12% annually. The state of Washington withholds her voting rights until she pays her debt in full.

A Louisiana man was convicted three times of killing someone in 1961, but each verdict was overturned on appeal, citing government misconduct. A fourth jury ultimately convicted him of manslaughter, which carries a lighter sentence than murder. Given that he had already spent 43 years in prison (more than the maximum sentence for manslaughter) he was released immediately because his sentence was completed. However, the state billed him $127,000 in costs for housing and feeding the juries that convicted him.

This practice exhibits is a degree of efficiency: The person causing the costs should pay the costs. The individual's total opportunity costs of incarceration plus fees increase significantly, potentially deterring future crimes. At the same time, though, society benefits when individuals reform and become productive members of society. In such cases, one could argue that the government - society - should pay some of those costs as the price for adding to the general welfare of society as a whole-an externality. Hmmm…..I wonder whether Martha Stewart had to pay for the tracking device she wore as part of her parole agreement….

1. Describe some opportunity costs associated with incarceration.
2. What are some explicit costs associated with incarceration, and how do they differ from any external costs? Do you see any differences between the two?
3. Discuss the efficiency of forcing poor criminals to pay their own expenses for their judicial and penal costs.
Source Adam Liptak. "Debt to society is least of costs for ex-convicts." The New York Times. 23 February 2006
Instructor Discussion Notes Discussion Notes
These notes are restricted to qualified instructors only. Register for free!

Return to the Economic Analysis | Government and the Economy | Scarcity Choice and Opportunity Cost Index

©1998-2006  South-Western.  All Rights Reserved   webmaster  |  DISCLAIMER