The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex

The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex is an interlocking and interdependent set of institutions whose avowed purpose is to 1. Protect Americans from crime.   2. Fairly punish wrong doers.  3. Provide rehabilitation for errant citizens and 4. Return them as productive members of society.  If we take these as the four main objectives of the system, in actuality, the system accomplishes very little of these objectives.  What it does accomplish, it does so at a high cost to our country.  The system is a gross miscarriage of justice whose complexity, cost, processes and outcomes cost Americans billions of dollars of year with little appreciative results for the money.  True, crime is down in the US for the past ten years but at what cost?  Furthermore, do you or any other Americans actually feel safer in your home or on the streets at night?  In what large American city would any man or women simply take a walk at 10 or 11 PM?

In this blog, I want to dissect each of the components of what I am calling our Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex to demonstrate the monstrous dysfunction of the system and to show how each part feeds off of and helps to sustain dysfunction in the other parts.  Let’s start with the Correctional System.  No doubt you have heard some of the statistics that demonstrate how expensive this system is but a short review might help.

The Correctional System:

The following table shows the number of Americans in jails in the US as of 2010:

Image

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States

“The cost of the American prison system is enormous.   It is estimated that the yearly cost of over $74 billion eclipses the GDP of 133 nations. What is perhaps most unsettling about this fact is that it is the American taxpayer who foots the bill, and is increasingly padding the pockets of publicly traded corporations like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Combined both companies generated over $2.53 billion in revenue in 2012, and represent more than half of the private prison business.”   http://www.smartasset.com/blog/news/the-economics-of-the-american-prison-system/

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world (743 per 100,000 population),  Russia has the second highest rate (577 per 100,000), followed by Rwanda (561 per 100,000). The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but 23.4% of the world’s prison and jail population.  As far as rehabilitating prisoners, a 2002 study survey showed that among nearly 275,000 prisoners released in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years, and 51.8% were back in prison.  Most studies support a high recidivism rate.

What are you going to do in today’s recession era economy with no job skills, a felony conviction and the past four or five years out of the labor market?   If you tell me you are going to get a job, I will give you one hundred to one odds against it.

However, we are simply looking at one part of the dysfunctional system that I am labeling as the Law Enforcement Legal Judicial Correctional Complex.  The costs of the Correctional system alone are staggering both in terms of financial costs and human lives not to mention human spirits.   But the system is interlocking and like the military industrial complex, each part feeds into and off of the other institutions. Most studies do not show the true cost to the American taxpayer since few take into consideration the cost of courts, lawyers, judges, parole officers, correctional officers and police departments.

The Legal-Judicial System:

Americans are treated almost monthly if not weekly to a real life courtroom drama.  The trial of OJ Simpson and other high profile cases has catapulted crime front and center into part of the American entertainment experience.   There is hardly a day that goes by when we cannot follow a new courtroom drama.  Trials such as the Casey Anthony case, Travon Martin case or the Jodi Arias case occupied front page news and TV time for months.  Even as I write, I am sure that some new bizarre case will soon grace our TV and newspapers.  Judges, lawyers and defendants become actors and Hollywood entertainers as they sacrifice justice for ratings.  The trials may go on for months and the news is quick to pounce on the most titillating and sensationalist elements of the trial in their efforts to increase ratings and advertising revenues. Where once sex reigned supreme to sell ad space and capture viewers, real life crime (often with elements of both sex and violence) are guaranteed to keep viewers welded to their couches.  The secondary effect of this massive bombardment of crime and court time is to persuade us that we are surrounded with and inundated with crime.  Go to Amazon.com and type in Serial Killers and you will find a total of 14.460 books dealing with the subject. Go to your local supermarket and look at the paperback books on the rack. Probably a third will deal with some aspect of murder or mayhem.

What does all this cost Americans in dollars?  It is estimated that the high profile murder case of Jodi Arias has reportedly cost Arizona residents well over $1.5 million to finance her aggressive state-appointed legal team, as well as the continuance of her extensive trial.  Ironically, after months of witnesses in what most thought would be a “slam dunk” case, the jury deadlocked on a verdict and now there must be a retrial.  If you were running the courts and making a fortune off of the advertising, news and TV broadcasts can you think of a better outcome?  More testimony from witnesses, more nude pictures, more sex and more violence; is anybody concerned about justice or the obscene costs of such performances.

Most costs that we associate with these “Hollywood” trials primarily calculate the costs of lawyers, but to obtain “Total Judicial Costs”, we must also include the costs of the courtrooms, the bailiffs, the juries and the judges as part of the entire system.  According to the US Chamber of Commerce, America’s civil justice system is the world’s most expensive, with a direct cost in 2010 of $264.6 billion, or 1.82% of U.S. GDP.  Add to this cost, the cost of the US criminal justice system (well over 300 billion by many estimates) and you now have $76 billion dollars for prisons, $265 billion dollars for civil trials and $300 billion dollars for criminal trials for a total of $641 billion dollars.  BUT WAIT!  We have not included the cost of the US Law Enforcement System.

The Law Enforcement System:

To obtain “Total Costs” we must also include the costs of state, county, municipal police departments, security departments and also such Federal Agencies as the FBI, ATF, and ICE which perform law enforcement activities.  Let’s look at the annual budgets of the three largest Federal agencies first:

  • ICE requested an annual budget of more than $5.8 billion for FY 2012.    ICE
  • The FBI’s fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request includes a total of $8.1 billion in direct budget authority.  FBI
  • ATF had a fiscal year budget of $1.2 billion dollars.  ATF

Now to include costs of police departments across the US: 

According to the Bureau of Justice, the operating budgets of local police departments totaled $55.4 billion for fiscal year 2007—14% more than in 2003 after adjusting for inflation (Bureau of Justice Statistics)

A more recent report by the Justice Policy Institute for 2012 notes that:

“Despite crime rates being at their lowest levels in more than 30 years, the U.S. continues to maintain large and increasingly militarized police units, spending more than $100 billion every year.  Police forces have grown from locally-funded public safety initiatives into federally subsidized jobs program, with a decreasing focus on community policing and growing concerns about racial profiling and “cuffs for cash,” with success measured not by increased safety and well-being but by more arrests.”

So to our former Total Costs of $641 billion dollars we must now add:

  • $5. 8 billion dollars for ICE
  • $8.1 billion dollars for the FBI
  • $1.2 billion for the ATF
  • $100 billion dollars for police departments across the USA

This brings our Total Costs for The Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex to $756 billion dollars and I have not calculated the costs of private security systems or private security agencies which by some estimates now include more total employees than in the US Law Enforcement system.  I have also not included other government agencies or state agencies such as Natural Resources which also have a law or code enforcement function.

$756 billion dollars is admittedly a rough estimate.  I would not stake my name or reputation on this figure.  However, the point of this exercise is to demonstrate that we are looking at a huge cost to achieve the aforementioned objectives of:

1. Protect Americans from crime.

2. Fairly punish wrong doers.

3. Provide rehabilitation for errant citizens

4. Return criminals as productive members of society.

At a rough cost of $5000 dollars per every America taxpayer per year, this might not seem like such a high cost if we could actually say that we are achieving our objectives.  But by no stretch of the imagination could anyone think we are actually doing a good job on any of the four objectives I described.  I could write volumes on the unfairness of prison sentences, the injustices in the court system, the unfair rates of incarceration for minorities, the lack of effectiveness of capital punishment to deter crime and the useless war on drugs which nets billions for the Law Enforcement Legal-Judicial Correctional Complex but has been zero percent effective in decreasing drug use.  No doubt though, you have heard these statistics and facts over and over again.  So the question really is where can or should we go from here. We know the system (if not irreparably broke) is in need of major repair.  What should these repairs be and how do we go about instituting them?

Caveats:

I want to clarify a few issues before I move onto my suggestions for change.  First, I do not want to nor do I think it possible or desirable to eliminate police, FBI and even the ICE group.  We need protective services and the world will never be a perfect place with perfect people. There are too many immoral and unethical people to expect that society will self-organize into peaceful crime free communities.

Second, the workers in the system are doing their best but as Deming often said, it is the fault of the system not the employees. The police, judges, lawyers, correction officers, parole officers, administrative people and security services are all doing the best they can in systems that are basically dysfunctional.

Third, we need to change the hearts and minds of Americans who stubbornly think that more prisons, more police, more trials, stricter sentencing and more guns will lead to a safer community.  This is a fallacy that empirically has little support. Wherever it is true, the cost in human lives and spirit not to mention the costs in dollars is not worth the results.

We need to fundamentally change our attitudes about the causes and solutions of crime.  We need to take the same scientific approach to crime that we take to physics, biology, chemistry and genetics.  Too much of our criminal justice system is based on superstition, intuition and emotions.  No doubt crime is a tragedy but the solution must be as analytic as Sherlock Holmes.   Punishments and sentencing based on political and emotional appeal to the populace have no place in the system.

Changes Needed:

 There are a plethora of crimes that need to be decriminalized.  Many crimes should not be felonies and could be resolved with the use of fines or some type of community service.  Once we stamp someone with the mark of felon, we can almost guarantee that we will create someone who can no longer fit into society.  Some types of crimes that could be dealt with without resort to prisons or felony convictions include prostitution, drugs, white collar crimes, domestic and sexual abuse crimes.  In cases where the offenders pose no threat to the physical well-being of others, we should avoid prison sentences and felony convictions at all costs.  Think of a system wherein we declared “War on the Abuse of Women” and put the same amount of money into efforts to stop violence against women as we presently are spending to stop drugs.  We need a multi-national and multi-cultural offensive against the abuse of women which (while needing funding) also needs intelligent interventions to stop abuse.   We do not need most of the men involved in violence against women labeled as felons and sent to prison for long sentences.

Do away with mandatory sentencing guidelines.  These guidelines increase the incarceration rate without any real impact on long-term crime.  Drug sentencing is one example where mandatory sentencing laws have had little or no impact on drug use in this country.

Review trial and court records for evidence of adverse impact and discrimination against minorities.  Change laws and policies which show a disproportionate number of convictions or longer sentences for any income, ethnic, age, or gender groups.

Eliminate the use of past criminal records in hiring for Federal, state, county and municipal jobs.   Allow ex-felons the same voting rights as regular citizens in all states.  Once a person has served his/her time, they should be allowed the same rights that all other citizens have. Their past records should not be used against them.  The only exception I can make here would be in cases involving child abuse and jobs wherein the ex-offender would potentially be working with or around children.

 Time for Questions:

Do you feel safer today than you did ten years ago?  How much are you willing to pay for more security?  Are you willing to give up your freedom for security?  Do you know any criminals? Have you ever been convicted of a crime?  What “second” chance do you think you should have been given?  Do you think others deserve a “second” chance?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

60 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Paula
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    Thank you for this, John. It’s an important discussion. I think you might really enjoy this man’s work: http://correctionsproject.com/. I believe I mentioned seeing him present about the New Orleans prison during Hurricane Katrina.
    Best,
    Paula

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    • johnpersico
      Aug 12, 2013 @ 14:31:50

      Thanks Paula, I appreciate the reference. I will look this up. I will be doing more work in this area and it will help to have more knowledge. Thanks, John

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    1. Do you feel safer today than you did ten years ago?
    In some ways I feel safer and in others less safe. Currently, I don’t feel a lot of anger between races like there was in years past. I think Affirmative Action has been very effective in creating a nascent middle class in the black community. I have always felt same in my home and on the streets. However, now that I’m older, I realized that I’m less capable to protect myself and this gives me some consternation when I walk the streets of Philadelphia at night.
    All things considered, which could be quite voluminous, I would have to say that I do feel safer today.
    2. How much are you willing to pay for more security?
    Given that I’m constantly bombarded by phone calls telling me that crime is up and that I truly need a home security system, and since I refuse to spend one extra dime for more protection, then I guess my answer is nothing.
    If anything I’m upset by the police-state environment that pervades this country.
    3. Are you willing to give up your freedom for security?
    Sometimes restricting freedom can bring more freedom.
    A restriction on concealed weapons for example can provide a greater sense of security and thus one feels free to walk about the city in safety.
    4. Do you know any criminals?
    If you are asking do I know anyone who has been caught in the quagmire that exists between law and justice, and if you are including those who commit illegal and don’t get caught, then yes I do. However, if you’re asking if I know anyone who commits immoral acts and is rewarded, then all I can say is that I know of them, but they’re not identified as criminals.
    5. Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
    No, and I’m known to be one who never tells a lie.
    6. What “second” chance do you think you should have been given?
    I don’t’ know. But I believe that all sentences should be what are best for society, with the understanding, that this person is part of society. His sentence should be a plan to return him as a productive member of society. This rehabilitation should be unique to the individual.

    7. Do you think others deserve a “second” chance? Why or why not?
    There are a lot of strange people in this world. However, I do believe that we are all responding to our environment. Incarceration has limited behavior modifying power. But if someone is to be incarcerated that environment should model the environment in which the justice system would want that person to thrive.

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