It’s hard for the average citizen to understand the budget situation facing state and local governments. There are two things to consider:
- Budget cuts are the number one story within the criminal justice system (in terms of newspaper coverage); nothing else comes close;
- Thirty-five of the 50 states (according to Governing Magazine) face serious budget difficulties. The rest are also suffering.
But the item never discussed is the fact that states and local governments have been struggling with their budgets for close to 15 years. The budget crisis within the criminal justice system is profound. The “fat” was eliminated over a decade ago. We are now cutting into the bone.
This from the San Francisco Chronicle, “ An effort to slash prison costs in California by laying off hundreds of workers who run rehabilitation programs could backfire, resulting in higher recidivism rates and ultimately higher prison costs, critics tell the San Francisco Chronicle. Over the next several months, officials will shave $250 million from rehabilitation spending and dismiss about 850 prison workers who run substance abuse and anger management programs, help inmates get high school diplomas, and teach offenders marketable skills such as plumbing, horticulture, and graphic arts.”
Prisons throughout the country are cutting back and releasing offenders early. DNA backlogs that could close criminal cases are almost legendary. Many police departments will not investigate accidents unless there is an injury and many more no longer investigate a wide array of crimes considered “minor.” Parole and probation caseloads are enormous with agents handling hundreds of cases where the recommended caseload is no more than 50. Ninety-four percent of all criminal cases in the United States are plea-bargained.
Citizens at community meetings bitterly complain that lower lever offenders who are making their lives miserable are not either locked up or sent to treatment. They readily admit that the system has lost the capacity to deal with “broken windows” issues or minor violations that are the heart of citizens abandoning urban areas.
Then there is the Wall Street Journal article “Budget Axe Slicing Into Police, Fire Departments.” It states, “The bleak arithmetic of the recession has pushed cities across the nation to make deep cuts in police, fire and emergency medical services.
Some cities are eliminating hundreds of patrol-officer and firefighter positions and taking ladder trucks and ambulances out of service. Others have announced they will no longer respond to entire categories of calls, such as burglaries, check fraud, shoplifting and traffic accidents involving minor injuries.
San Diego just auctioned off its police horses. Colorado Springs, Colo., has put its two police helicopters up for sale online. In Phoenix, Mayor Phil Gordon, a Democrat, said wearily that he may no longer be able to attach officers to federal task forces running down leads on terrorism, drug trafficking and child exploitation.”
Again, all of this needs to be understood in the context of time; the cuts have been never-ending. There are some younger workers within the justice system who have seen nothing but cuts; they have no idea of loftier days when programs and initiatives were common.
The bottom-line is that the justice system is only as good as its funding. We are lucky that crime continues to go down but crime statistics are only one barometer. Citizens voting with their feet and moving to areas that present fewer problems is still an issue for our cities and counties.
The question becomes the breaking points where the system and citizen frustration collapses onto itself. Criminal justice administrators are publically stoic, but behind closed doors, they say the same thing.
Crime in America.Net staff.