Success in the Media

“Broke-American Justice on the Ropes”

Crime in America.Net

I was called this morning and told to look at CNN. Their lead story was about Camden, New Jersey and the fact that they are in the process of laying off close to half their police department, see http://money.cnn.com/2011/01/17/news/economy/camden_police_layoffs/index.htm?hpt=Sbin. Firefighters were also being laid off.

In the body of the article is a link to an earlier report from CNN stating that 22 percent of municipalities were cutting their public safety budgets. We believe that the report undercounts the real number.

We wish we had something profoundly pithy and insightful to say but we don’t. What we will say is that we were reporting on these issues months before mainstream media picked it up. This much, however, we do know:

Budget cuts or restrictions have been hampering most public safety operations for the last decade.

Commanders of police, corrections and parole and probation agencies are now re-evaluating the basic assumptions of their jobs. It’s impossible to continue as is. Fundamental change as to criminal justice operations is now either contemplated or moving forward.

Radical change is not necessarily bad; they provide permission to do things differently that would have been unthinkable in the past such as closing prisons or ending the supervision of lower level offenders. Reductions in prison space are occurring in approximately half the states according to the US Department of Justice. More states will take these actions in the future.

These actions may not have a substantial impact on crime rates if offenders are chosen wisely.  Problem is, no one can be sure that an offender with a break (early release-lack of community supervision) will not turn out to be an offender who murders a cop (Massachusetts) or someone who harms another person (many states).

All have resulted in substantial negative media coverage culminating with the recent firing of the entire parole board in Massachusetts and the director of corrections in Illinois.

But with police officers, you have to have the person power to respond to calls and patrol aggressively. Substantially cut their numbers and people will suffer serious consequences. Communities will feel the pain.

No one knows the true magnitude of justice budget cuts but they have been (and will continue to be) severe. It’s a decision point in American criminal justice that has real consequences.

Our prediction? Within the next year, CNN will create a series of programs titled “Broke-American Justice on the Ropes” (sorry, just watched a boxing movie).

We can close “some” prisons and eliminate the supervision of “some” offenders and we can lay off “some” police officers but there will be a point where we diminish efficiency; the system melts down.

No one has a precise sense as to when that will happen (or if it will happen) but most of us within the justice system express real concern that we could cross that point without knowing it; without knowing how to get back.

American crime rates continue to go down so there is some leeway built into the scenario, but no one will know when we will go too far until there is a collective revulsion revealed by newspapers throughout the country.

For recent coverage, see ;

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/01/14/five_out_as_governor_overhauls_parole_board/?page=full;

and http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_17109240 . These are just three recent and endless examples from a variety or sources.

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