Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bank account: A simple solution to crime?

Ever thought about how hard it would be to take care of basic business without a bank account or credit cards?

In the UK, an experimental project to open bank accounts for paroling prisoners has led to a remarkable finding: The ex-cons who got bank accounts were only half as likely as other parolees to reoffend.

And here's another remarkable finding: Four out of five of these guys had never had a bank account before.

What's the magic of banking?

The magic lies in being treated like a human being, says prison correspondent Eric Allison (himself an ex-prisoner) in today's Guardian of UK:

Some things are so blindingly obvious, their very dazzle prevents us from seeing them; of course having a bank account will go a long towards preventing reoffending; try getting a job, or accommodation, without one…. Prison service and the public take note, the more you do to integrate prisoners back into society, the less likely they are to reoffend. Treat those leaving our jails as normal human beings and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Allison quotes a couple of prisoners saying pretty much that:
  • "Having an account gave me a sense of self-respect, made me feel part of society."
  • "It [the account] opened many doors and gave me a sense of identity."
Of course, science-minded readers will recognize that correlation does not equal causation. Perhaps there was some type of selection bias. Maybe prisoners motivated to "go straight" were more interested in bank accounts.

Nonetheless, just like restoring prisoners' right to vote, it is a pretty low-cost measure considering the potential benefits.

More information on the study is available from the Research Unit for Financial Inclusion at Liverpool John Moores University. Other interested articles on prison issues in the UK by Eric Allison are here.

Hat tip: Robert Forde

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