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Top Economists to Join Criminal Justice Reform Effort

Ten renowned economists from across the political spectrum have joined together to form the Brennan Center’s Economic Advisory Board, a new initiative supporting the Center’s data-driven approach to ending mass incarceration.

February 17, 2016

New York, NY – Today, 10 renowned economists from across the political spectrum — including former Cabinet officials, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, professors, and political advisers — joined the Brennan Center’s Economic Advisory Board, a new initiative supporting the Center’s data-driven approach to ending mass incarceration.

The bipartisan group will provide strategic guidance and help chart economic and social science research for the Center’s work to end mass incarceration. The group will vet economic analysis seeking to quantify the effects of mass incarceration on economic inequality and the country’s economy. The initiative is led by Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

“Data and economic research shows which policies are working, and which are not,” said Lawrence H. Summers, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and President Emeritus and Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University. “It’s important for lawmakers, and all Americans, to understand that mass incarceration has real, negative consequences for our economy as reform of sentencing laws to reduce the number of people in prison is being considered by Congress.”

“Mass incarceration isn’t just a moral problem, it’s also an economic one,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in economics and professor at Columbia University. “The unnecessary incarceration of millions of offenders keeps potentially productive citizens out of our workforce and contributes to the economic inequality of communities of color. It’s vital for economists to join lawmakers and law enforcement to call for an end to overly harsh criminal justice policies.”

“Criminal justice reform is an issue that brings both sides of the aisle together,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, and former chief economist for the White House and director of the Congressional Budget Office under President George W. Bush. “Conservative economic principles hold that we should not waste government resources on a system that does not work and takes thousands of people away from the American workforce.”  

Formation of the board comes amid ever-growing evidence that mass incarceration has significant and far-reaching economic consequences. The criminal justice system costs taxpayers $260 billion a year, according to The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act, a 2015 Brennan Center analysis. And, incarceration contributes to as much as 20 percent of the poverty rate in America.

“The fiscal costs of mass incarceration are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Inimai Chettiar. “Over-incarceration’s larger effect on human capital, the economy, and inequality haven’t been fully quantified. This initiative, with guidance from the Board, seeks to do that.” 

Chettiar and members of the board are available for comment. Members of the board include:

  • Steven N. Durlauf, William F. Vilas Research Professor and Kenneth J. Arrow Professor of Economics, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, President, American Action Forum; former Chief Economist, White House Council of Economic Advisers; former Director, Congressional Budget Office; Chief Economic Policy Adviser, John McCain Presidential Campaign.
  • Glenn C. Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences, Brown University; member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • Jeffrey A. Miron, Director of Economic Studies, Cato Institute; Senior Lecturer on Economics and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Harvard University.
  • Peter R. Orszag, Vice Chairman of Corporate and Investment Banking and Chairman of Financial Strategy and Solutions Group, Citigroup; former Director, White House Office of Management and Budget; former Director, U.S. Congressional Budget Office.
  • Daniel L. Rubinfeld, Professor of Law, New York University; Robert L. Bridges Professor of Law and Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of California; member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate, Economics; University Professor, Columbia University; former Chief Economist, World Bank; former Chairman, White House Council of Economic Advisers.
  • Lawrence H. Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor and President Emeritus, Harvard University; former U.S. Secretary of Treasury; former Director, White House National Economic Council; former Chief Economist, World Bank.
  • Petra E. Todd, Alfred L. Cass Term Professor of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Laura D. Tyson, Professor and former Dean, Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley; Director, Institute for Business and Social Impact; former Chairman, White House Council of Economic Advisors.

Read more about the Economic Advisory Board here and the Brennan Center’s efforts to end mass incarceration here. Forthcoming reports include a look at the economic impact of unnecessary incarceration. The Center also published an economic analysis of the causes of the crime decline since 1990.