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California’s Budget Crisis: A Suggestion Regarding the Judiciary Budget

Posted by Rick · February 3rd, 2004 · 1 Comment

California’s budgetary crisis is so bad that even though we constantly complain about how clogged the courts are, indicating a need for a bigger court budget, the Governator has proposed to cut $70 million from the budget for California’s judiciary.

Now there’s a novel idea that few kill-’em-or-at-least-lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key Republicans have thought of until now: If you can’t beat ’em, bankrupt ’em! After all, one of Shakespeare’s most oft-repeated phrases is “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers.” This phrase is considered anti-lawyer because it’s commonly misinterpreted. What few people realize is that the Shakespearean character who said that was a rebel who meant to overthrow the government. The comment was his way of indicating that if there was any chance of success, first the lawyers would have to go, because they were responsible for the maintenance of social order.

But I digress, slightly….

Since it’s the Governator’s proposed budget for the Third Branch — the Judiciary — that provoked me to write this entry, I have a proposal relating strictly to the legal system which could potentially save many millions, if not billions, of dollars over the next several years.

Three Strikes and We’re Out (of Money)

California, like a lot of states, has a very active prison system. We’re fond of arresting people and sending them away for long periods of time for crimes large or small. Our “Three Strikes” law is considered the toughest in the nation. Using this law, California prosecutors have sent people to jail for the horrible theft of $153 worth of videotapes.

Now I hate videotape thieves as much as the next guy. There’s nothing worse than saving your hard-earned money, drooling every day over a videotape that you’ve discovered is only carried in one store in your town of 500,000 people and then, finally, when you’ve saved enough to buy it, you discover you can’t because it’s been stolen. In a situation like that, I can see an urgent need to put away the perp for life!

And in 1999, the Supreme Court of the United States apparently agreed about the egregious character of these thefts. They refused to hear the appeal of a California man sentenced to 25 years to life for stealing a bottle of vitamins. And I was glad to hear it, because — as some of you may know — I was recently diagnosed with cancer. (Thank goodness, the doctors believe they got it all!) So I’ll not brook someone stealing vitamins. From here on out, I’ll need to watch my own health and I can’t afford to find that some no-good has snatched the last bottle!

The problem, though, is the cost. Forget the fact that prison guard salaries have doubled since 1980 in California. (How many other vocations in California can say that?) Forget the fact that the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has given millions of dollars in support of Three Strikes and other “lock ’em up” measures, as well as to Republican candidates for various offices so they can pass more anti-crime laws, lock up more people and — what the union is after more than anything — create the need for more correctional officers. Forget that in 1994 — the year the Three Strikes law was passed — California spent about $25,000 per prisoner just building new prisons while spending $4,569 per student in the public school system.

Clarification: No Anti-Law-Enforcement Intent

Nothing in this entry should be taken to indicate that I’m against the police, correctional officers, prosecutors or anyone else involved in law enforcement. That’s definitely not my point. They deserve every penny of their pay. Under different budgetary circumstances, I’d argue they deserve more. And if we’re going to continue locking up everyone in sight for the longest possible terms, we need more correctional officers. I’m simply pointing to their exercise of vested interests in securing more and more of these good-paying jobs through political actions that ultimately have negative social consequences. Furthermore, my main argument in this section is that we simply cannot afford to lock up everyone in sight.

From a purely budgetary standpoint, this is clearly insanity. But just as with the Ginsu knives, there’s more! It costs a minimum of two-hundred-thirteen-million dollars — let me say that again: a minimum of $213,000,000 — to house 300 inmates for 25 years in California. ($28,439 per year or $710,000 for 25 years for one inmate, according to the California Department of Corrections Fourth Quarter 2003 Facts and Figures.) According to ThreeStrikes.org, the Sacramento Bee reported in September of 2003 that 58 percent of 7,143 third-strike inmates were convicted for non-violent third-strike felonies, sending them away for life. Using the CDC cost figures above, these inmates will cost Californians over two billion dollars to house for 25 years. And that doesn’t count the increasing health care costs as the prisoners get older. And some of them will no doubt live longer than 25 years. Remember, they’re in for life!

The Three Strikes law in California is so severe that two of the three strikes that count could be decades old when suddenly, you find yourself guilty of your Third Strike — which could be shoplifting three golf clubs. Even where the golf-club-stealing felon had a prior history of violent offenses, using shoplifting charges to get him off the street on the grounds that he has been violent at some time in the past (but not this time) and might one day again be violent not only smacks of Minority Report, but it’s expensive!

Even closer to the point — since it’s California’s court budget the Governator is wanting to cut — is this: As a result of California’s Three Strikes law, court costs have increased, also. Where previously a criminal — and they are criminals! — accused of a non-violent felony would typically plea bargain, they now more often fight the charge in order to keep from racking up another strike. The cost to taxpayers of the plea bargain? A plea bargain counts as a conviction without the cost of the trial. A plea bargain typically costs $600 per conviction. Full-blown trials typically cost $50,000. And that just doesn’t count appeals.

If the Three Strikes law actually worked the wonders claimed for it of lowering crime rates, it still wouldn’t be worth the impact it’s having on California’s budget. But there’s growing evidence that it doesn’t do much more than enrich the prison lobby. Meanwhile, California’s prison population is growing again because crime rates are up..

So if we want to cut $70 million from the budget of the California Judiciary, let’s put some sanity into the Three Strikes law. As an added benefit, we get to cut the costs of building prisons, housing inmates and providing free medical care for thousands of old criminals.

Three Strikes for Corporate Crime?

It’s no secret that the United States, and not just California, has had serious problems with Corporate Crime. Maybe it’s the high corporate taxes that everyone says drives businesses out of California. This, of course, is a terrible thing all by itself, because at the rate we’re going (so I hear), there will soon be no businesses left in California. Think of it! You won’t be able to buy anything because there will be no one to buy from! You won’t be able to go to work because there won’t be any jobs at all! Nowhere in the entire state! No businesses will operate in California. No one will want to sell anything, even if millions of Californians want to buy things. Just try to offer someone money for something, they won’t take it! The California market will be not dead — it will have ceased to exist!

If you believe that, I’ve got some beach-front property in Death Valley I’d love to sell you — plenty of sand. Please call me.

I continue to fear that we are rapidly reaching the day, as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson warned, where economic power would one day try to seize political power. Once again, Washington is putting large corporate interests — who write the big checks and, in turn, get to write the legislation — ahead of the small businesses and working Americans who continue to bear a greater share of the tax burden in this country.” Governor Dean’s Statement on Corporate Tax Cuts

Corporate fines are not enough. Corporations consider this “the cost of doing business.” What’s needed is a Three Strikes Law for Corporations.

Governator: What about this idea? We implement Three Strikes for Corporations. And we combine that with RICO-style confiscations of the dead corporation’s property. Think of it, with the number of large corporations that have so far failed to flee the high corporate tax penalties of California, combined with their propensity to commit crimes a lá Enron, all of California’s budget woes would be resolved. Overnight. And you could cut taxes without running up Bush-style deficits!

The only downside to this is no other Republican would ever again be elected, since all their campaign war chests would dry up.

Wait! That’s a double — even a triple! — win for the people of California and the Nation! You’ll be a hero!

I think anyone with a modicum of mathematical abilities (not to mention intelligence) can see that these two approaches to the Three Strikes initiatives — stopping their use as pertains to humans who have not yet committed violent crimes against society and using them against corporations which are a constant source of violence against civilization — easily constitute not just our budgetary, but our moral, salvation.

First thing we do, though, is kill all the politicians.

Categories: Social Issues


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