July 19 2012
Budget Crises and Public Safety
Amidst the Obama-Romney banter about employment, crime isn’t the biggest of concerns for Americans, especially since the national crime rate continues to drop. Most people are definitely thinking about the economy right now, but they should not overlook basic issues like safety. It still remains an important concern in states that face financial trouble.
Our low crime rate today shows that crime isn’t necessarily a direct byproduct of a struggling economy. In his essay “Crime and the Recession,” James Q. Wilson insightfully noted that factors like imprisonment, policing, environmental changes, and less cocaine abuse have all contributed to crime reduction in recent years.
The state of California however is an example of how crime and the fiscal health of the government are linked. The economy plays a role here, along with the government’s management of its budget. At the same time that several California cities have already declared bankruptcy, the state’s prison realignment legislation is in full effect. Prison realignment was the state's response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on prison overcrowding and also state deficits. It has sent thousands of state level offenders to local county jails, and unprepared sheriffs have dealt with an influx of new prisoners and new crimes including weapons possession. While taxpayers might save some money by shifting these offenders to county jails, it could be at the expense of safety.
The Sacramento Bee recently reported:
After [realignment] took effect in October… at least two dozen offenses shifting to local control could be considered serious or violent, prompting angry responses from local officials who felt blindsided. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation … shifting 10 crimes back to state prisons. Among them are several involving child sex offenses, selling drugs to a child in a park, seriously injuring a peace officer during an escape or while resisting arrest, and escaping from a mental hospital.
But [realignment] also shifts four more crimes to county jails. They include possession of certain dangerous items, such as certain explosives, various knives, and exotic weapons like guns or swords hidden in walking canes, belt buckles, lipstick cases, wallets or writing pens.
In response to new risks, the state’s revised budget will allocate $20 million for creating a new grant program for police departments and $500 million for a new round of local jail construction, and this is in addition to $1.2 billion for lease revenue bond for jail construction.
When thinking about the economy, women should consider California, where public safety is ultimately affected by the government’s response to the economy through unreliable state and local tax structures and irresponsible fiscal decision making and pensions.