Does going to jail teach you to be a better criminal?
Sociologists and psychologists have long puzzled over why the criminal justice system seemingly fails to reform inmates - a frustratingly large portion of the prisoners released end up right back in jail a short while later. One researcher from Ohio University decided to use a longitudinal study - one which tracks down the same participants year after year to ask them survey questions - to see if prison actually improves the quality of the criminal.
If prison reformed criminals, illegal earnings once people were released ought to have gone down. But if prison was a “finishing school” for criminals, illegal earnings after serving time should have increased.
“Spending time in prison leads to increased criminal earnings,” Hutcherson says. “On average, a person can make roughly $11,000 more [illegally] from spending time in prison versus a person who does not spend time in prison.”
As to the process by which this happens, he says, “You come in [to prison]. You’re 16, 17, 18 years old. You’re looking around and you’re thinking, ‘Listen, I can learn from these seasoned veterans.’ And that’s exactly what you do. … Basically, you are spending a lot of time around other criminals, seasoned veterans who know the lay of the land, and they can teach you the mechanisms — ways to get away with crime.”
You can listen to the whole story over at NPR.