Pubdate: Mon, 11 Feb 2002
Source: New York Times (NY)
Section: National
Copyright: 2002 The New York Times Company
Author: Fox Butterfield


The cost of combating crime in the United States, for police, prisons and 
courts, was $147 billion in 1999, the last year for which figures are 
available, according to a study released yesterday by the Bureau of Justice 

That is more than four times the $36 billion spent on the criminal justice 
system in 1982. Federal, state and local expenditures for police, prisons 
and courts increased every year in the 1990's, even as crime fell during 
the decade.

Nearly 2.2 million people work in the criminal justice system, including 
one million police officers, 717,000 prison and jail guards and 455,000 
people in the courts, the report said. The expenditures amount to 7.7 
percent of all state and local government spending and are about the same 
as government spending on hospitals and health care.

The report did not directly address the question of how effective the 
spending has been. But it did find that in general, crime rates and 
spending on criminal justice were related, though not in the sense that 
many people believe.

"States with high crime rates tend to have higher than average expenditures 
and employment" devoted to criminal justice, the report said, while states 
with the lowest crime rates tend to have the lowest spending and employment.

Some of the highest spending on criminal justice per capita was in the 
District of Columbia, Alaska and California, where the crime rates are 
high, the report said. But the five states with the lowest spending per 
capita on criminal justice were South Dakota, Maine, Vermont, North Dakota 
and West Virginia, which have long been among the states with the lowest 
crime rates.

"You can't assume that because you spend more money that you are going to 
drive down crime," said Michael Jacobson, a professor at John Jay College 
of Criminal Justice and a former corrections and probation commissioner and 
deputy budget director for New York City. "That is a simplistic assumption."

The question now, Professor Jacobson said, is whether the fiscal crisis 
facing almost all states will force policy makers to confront the costs of 
using prisons to lock up an ever increasing number of people.

"In the 1990's, when states were flush with cash, they could do 
everything," Professor Jacobson said. They could cut taxes and build more 
prisons, he said, and in fact prisons were the fastest-growing item in 
state budgets during the past decade. "But now they must make hard choices, 
and with crime already going down, they must put a price on prisons."

Several states, including Ohio and Michigan, have already closed prisons in 
the past few months as a result of budget shortfalls, and some other 
states, including Washington, are considering reversing tough sentencing 
laws passed in the 1990's, so that inmates will serve shorter terms and the 
pressure for prison bed space will be reduced.

Jeremy Travis, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a former director 
of the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Justice 
Department, suggested that the report's finding about the huge costs of 
criminal justice might lead some states to consider a new strategy for 
dealing with crime.

"The question is whether spending all that money on investments in the 
local community, where crime is taking place, would end up costing less 
money," Mr. Travis said. The money might be more effectively spent on job 
training, education and family services in poor neighborhoods with high 
crime rates rather than "exporting those funds to prisons, courts and 
police officers outside of the community," he said.

In many states, including New York and California, most prisons are in 
rural areas, shifting jobs and resources far from the cities where the 
majority of criminals come from.

The report also highlights the federal government's increased role in the 
last two decades in criminal justice, which before then had been regarded 
more as a local or state function, said Alfred Blumstein, a professor of 
criminal justice at Carnegie Mellon University.

Federal expenditures on criminal justice jumped to $27.4 billion in 1999, 
up from $4.5 billion in 1982, the report found. That is a greater increase 
than those in state and local spending. The biggest proportion of the 
increase in federal spending was for prisons, as Congress moved to make 
more crimes federal crimes, particularly drug offenses, and imposed longer 

About 60 percent of inmates in federal prisons are now there for drug 
crimes, Professor Blumstein said, a far higher proportion than in state 

The report also found that spending on prisons, largely a state 
responsibility, grew faster than spending on police, which is primarily 
local. State spending on prisons, adjusted for inflation, rose 122 percent 
from 1982 to 1999, to $34.7 billion. But local spending on police increased 
only 39 percent, to $45.6 billion.
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MAP posted-by: Beth