Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ironies in Crime and Punishment

Two interesting stories today on the ironic effects of the recession on the criminal justice system.

Double Blow for Police: Less Cash, More Crime:

Philadelphia officials are leaving 200 police positions unfilled and cutting back on overtime.

Sheriff's deputies in Polk County, Fla., are picking up more work after the state highway patrol froze hiring and four local police agencies disbanded.

And police in Atlanta are shouldering a 10 percent pay cut after all 1,770 employees and the police chief agreed to a furlough of four hours per week.

The nation's economic trouble has hit state and local law enforcement, with two out of three large departments reporting budget cuts or hiring freezes. And at the same time, leaders at more than a quarter of the 233 departments that responded to a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum say they are noticing an uptick in property crime that they blame, at least in part, to economic unrest.

Of course, we don't know that for sure, but it seems logical. When people are put out of work, they'll resort to whatever means necessary in order to survive. I wonder if we should start making room for them in the nation's prison system?

Court Orders California to Cut Prison Population:

The California prison system must reduce overcrowding by as many as 55,000 inmates within three years to provide a constitutional level of medical and mental health care, a federal three-judge panel tentatively ruled Monday.

Relying on expert testimony, the court ruled that the California prison system, the nation’s largest with more than 150,000 inmates, could reduce its population by shortening sentences, diverting nonviolent felons to county programs, giving inmates good behavior credits toward early release, and reforming parole, which they said would have no adverse impact on public safety. The panel said that without such a plan, conditions would continue to deteriorate and inmates might regularly die of suicide or lack of proper care.
The great irony is that states may end up having to release inmates in order to make room for the new "surplus labor population" now being created by this recession.

I haven't read the details of the stimulus bill being floated in Washington, but let's hope history doesn't repeat itself and prison construction does not become seen as a Keynesian stimulus.

If you think such a thing is implausible, consider the rampant prison construction which occurred in response to the last "great recession" and corresponding crime wave in the 1980's.

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