Cost Centers - It's the Money Stupid

On Being Competitive

In the SOTU, President Obama called for a spending freeze for discretionary spending.  It appears some local governments have gotten a head start.  In Camden, New Jersey as many as one half the police and one third of the firemen are being laid off.  In Detroit, some areas of the city are officially declared to be without police of fire protection.  The president stressed the need to be competitive in the world economy presumably by cutting government spending.

Frugal approaches to crime control are not new.  In 1954, the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis was built.  It was imploded in 1972.  The entire demolition of the 33 buildings took four years.  It was not possible to police the structure using the funds available for public safety.  In reality, it was not safe for the police.  Police Officer is one of the most dangerous occupations.

Thinking Outside the Box — Some Historical Data Points and Policies in Other Nations

On 1 Feb 1933, Guiseppe Zanagara fired five shots at President – Elect Roosevelt in Miami, Florida.  Roosevelt was not wounded but Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago and four other persons were.  Five days later Zangara pled guilty and was sentenced to 80 years.  Cermak died on 6 March.  Zangara was tried for murder, convicted and executed on 20 March or 14 days after the Mayor’s demise.

On 8 Jan, Jared Loughner fired multiple shots at Congressman Giffords in Tucson.  Giffords was seriously wounded and a federal judge and five others were killed and twelve wounded.  It will be of interest to tabulate the time and expenditures which will lead to a final disposition of Loughner’s criminal charges.

In California and other states, the criminal justice process is so convoluted that some death penalty advocates have thrown in the towel and now support abolition on a cost basis.  California spends over $50,000 per prisoner per year.  That is almost three times the amount spent by Texas and four times that spent by Montana.

Fiscal Responsibility for Judges

In California, ballot propositions require a fiscal impact statement.  Judges should be required to issue a fiscal impact statement accompanying their rulings.  There are no perfect societies.  Whether it is health care, justice, education, or public safety, society needs more than it can afford.  Judges cannot be immune from the permanent fiscal quandary.   Waste in one area will impact other areas of need.

One cause of prison costs in California is the notorious raises given to prison guards prior to the 2002 election by Gov. Grey Davis.  Another cause is Judges Gone Wild in granting requests for more space and medical care for prisoners.

Personal Contact with Prosecuting Attorneys – Cica 1967

As an enthusiastic relatively young conservative, I challenged some young prosecuting attorneys in my apartment to get tough on criminals.  That was the theme of the Southern California Republicans.  (There acturally were some at that time.)  The prosecutors ‘splained to me that the courts were too crowded and they feared jury nullification in some cases.  Cases were commonly pled out to a lesser charge.

At this time, California cannot afford to jail anyone.  If fact, prisoners are either released or transferred to other states for a charge that is less than the California costs.

Juries – Who Needs Them

Juries are not used in most developed nations.  There is no evidence that the quality of justice is inferior to that in the United States.  In fact, the cases of over turned homicide convictions, commonly involve juries that relied excessively on emotion and extraneous factors rather than forensic evidence.  The constitution can be amended.  Milton Friedman warned of confusing spending money with getting things done.

It would be well to compare the expenditures on a comparable case basis for criminal justice in nations such as Israel and Sweden to the United States.