Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Shorter sentences when locals on the hook for incarceration costs

In California, when counties were made to pay for juvenile incarceration instead of pawning off costs on the state, local decision makers chose to incarcerate youthful offenders for shorter periods, according to this academic paper describing the "natural experiment" that resulted from the change in policy. (Thanks to a reader for pointing it out.)

Lately, Grits has been making the case that many of the most important "unfunded mandates" affecting government budgets come from local decisions for which state government must pay. This paper shows that the tuff on crime crowd gets less punitive when the costs for their rhetoric come out of their own budgets. 

That counties don't want to pay for incarceration should surprise no one. Heck, Texas judges don't even sentence misdemeanor defendants to jail time upon conviction, typically. As of July 1, only 3.7 percent of county jail inmates were convicted misdemeanants, while 9.1 percent were misdemeanants awaiting trial. That pattern holds even for counties sending inmates to TDCJ at exceptionally high rates.

To me, this dynamic argues for exploring more seriously a cap-and-trade program where counties are assigned a share of aggregate bed-years every year. Those wishing to over-incarcerate could buy extra bed-years from less punitive counties via a market mechanism similar to cap-and-trade for pollution controls. Such a system would still have the state pay for most incarceration, but let counties which wanted to incarcerate at much higher rates than their more liberty-minded counterparts do so if they're willing to pay for it.

MORE: John Pfaff addressed this post/paper on his Twitter feed.

11 comments:

mike connelly said...

In the late 1990s the director of the OK Sentencing Commission asked the director of the state prosecutors' association, which was opposing serious sentencing of the time, where the money was going to come from to pay for all the new beds if the reform failed or the increased penalties the DAs were proposing occurred. The verbatim quote from her was "Not my problem." That was exactly right. The OK DAs had the state credit card and every charging decision and plea bargain they made was a budget decision for either their counties or the state. The state got most of the bills, and the situation in the state 20 years later is still a disaster--http://newsok.com/article/5557617 ("Oklahoma Department of Corrections considers ways to release nonviolent inmates," July 24, 2017).

mike connelly said...

sorry, "serious sentencing reform of the time." too quick on proving I wasn't a robot.

Anonymous said...

Problem is would be thrifty locals are up against TDCJ officers that know how to protect their jobs by holding internal prison courts that result in a phenomenon known as a "setoff" whereby a prisoner is kept for an extra three or four years per trumped up "disciplinary violation". A cigarette can mean an extra year or two, or more, for a prisoner found to be in possession of "contraband". Three and four year setoffs are not all uncommon and since the court tribunal is comprised of prison guards the matter is carefully kept away from prying media and court eyes. In this way prisoners are kept for years past when they should be released and a five year sentence can quickly multiply since no parole hearing will ever be held. Thus---TDCJ becomes a self licking ice cream cone where the cons stay much longer and guards stay---you guessed it---employed.

Anonymous said...

When the state starts paying the counties for the costs associated with inmates housed in county jails on parole warrants, I'll lose a little more sleep over the counties not paying their "fair share." Until then, not so much.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@5:35, the cost of housing inmates with parole warrants in jail is a TINY FRACTION of the costs locals assign to the state through excessive sentences. It's not even close. An ill-informed comparison, at best.

Wise Texan said...

Isn't it funny how money makes people change their rhetoric? Tough on crime sounds lovely until you start looking at the cost and recidivism as a result of these stupid laws and policies. Thanks for the insightful piece, it should give legislators something to think about and activists like myself something to push for going forward.

Steven Seys said...

Scott, did you ever look at the vote suppression that comes along with high rates of felony incarceration? I guess you can find statistical support for the hypothesis that counties with the highest incarceration rates use it to maintain their power base.

Anonymous said...

Or, on a more contemporary level, the cost to the local jurisdictions of honoring the ICE immigration holds that the state has now mandated the counties comply with under the new sanctuary cities law? Or the cost to the counties of complying with the new training and mental health provisions of the Sandra Bland law? Or the cost to the counties of representing TDPRS/CPS in child removal litigation, or the cost to many counties who provide office space to the DPS highway patrol and Texas Rangers, or the free dispatching services the counties and cities provide to DPS and other state law enforcement agencies... just to name a few. This whole costs shifting argument reflected by this post and several of the preceding posts is pretty bogus and frankly, transparent. The bottom line is that the relationship between the state and the counties/municipalities is a mutually beneficial two way street. The state, which passes the very penal laws and penalties which are enforced at the local level, is simply better positioned to govern and fund corrections (and comply with federal mandates)for felony grade offenders who are subject to either long term supervision or incarceration. If the state feels like some counties are locking up too many offenders for too long, the solution is quite simple: reduce the penalty range in the Penal Code for various crimes.

Ultimately, this idea that counties (especially small and rural counties) should pay more for correctional costs is pretty divisive and unproductive...unless your goal is to coddle and reduce the punishment for criminals. "If the shoe fits..."

Anonymous said...

Creative small police departments in rural areas frequently bolster revenue for incarceration---and the community at large---by having some of the best organized motor vehicle pullover schemes in the nation. In past years even the American Automobile Association has cautioned members about such localities. Yet another self licking ice cream cone as someone said earlier.

Liberaltarian . . . said...

This is such a brilliant idea.

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