Crime Spending Exploding In Many States, Study Shows
By Bair S Walker , Senior Writer
State and local criminal justice spending nearly doubled between 1983 and 1995 thanks largely to public pressure for strciter law enforcment, a new study says.
Phenomenon such as the war on drugs, 'three strikes' laws and increased prison construction helped boost criminal justcie budgets from $50.7 billion in 1983 to $96.1 billion in 1995, according to the Center for the Study of the States, which conducted the study.
The center is a function of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, N.Y.
"It was becoming clear to us that criminal justice spending was growing much faster than other parts of the budget, so we wanted to look into this further," says study co-author Deborah A. Ellwood, adding that the trend shows no sign of slowing.
Florida experienced the biggest jump in spending on criminal justice, which the study subdivides into corrections, judicial and police. The Sunshine State spent $6.4 billion on criminal justice in 1995, representing a 155-percent increase over 1983. Nationwide, the average jump from 1983 to 1995 was 90 percent
In addition, Florida earmarked a larger portion of its 1995 state and local government spending -- 9.8 percent -- for criminal justice than the rest of the country, which had a 7.1 percent average increase.
Sparsely populated North Dakota took up the rear at 3.7 percent. Regionally, criminal justices costs exploded in the Southwest, where there was a 121 percent jump from 1983 to 1995. The dollars flowed less freely in the Plains states, where the increase was 61 percent.
When the $96.1 billion total that state and local governments spent on criminal justice in 1995 is broken down, $41.1 billion went to police agencies, $35.9 to corrections and $19.1 billion to the courts. The most recent year such figures were made available is 1995, Rockefeller researchers say.
Growing prison populations are the main factor driving the upswing in criminal justice costs, Ellwood said. "There seem to be several underlying factors -- one just seems to be a sentiment to get tough on criminals."
The Rockefeller study notes that seven states forecast prison growth exceeding 10 percent in 1998, with another seven forecasting between 7 percent and 10 percent.
That dismays Jason Ziedenberg, a policy analyst with the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute. "Look at New York State -- between 1988 and 1998, the corrections budget went up 700 million dollars, and the higher education budget went down 680 million dollars," Ziedenberg says.
"The same thing is happening in California, which now spends three times more on prisons than universities. That's the scale of what's happening."
Most people have no qualms about spending more on criminal justice if they link it to a drop in crime, says Texas Rep. Robert Junell, (D), who chairs his state's House appropriations committee.
Texas, which takes a harsh stance on crime and led the country in executions last year and in 1997, had a 6.5 percent decrease in violent crime in 1997, and a 8.2 percent decrease the first six months of 1998.The last year violent crime increased, according to Texas data, is 1991, when there was a 10.3 percent spike.
The state experienced a 154 percent increase in criminal justice spending between 1983 and 1995, putting it second behind Florida. Whereas the Lone Star State earmarked $2.6 billion for criminal justice in 1983, the tab rose to $6.7 billion in 1995.
Junell, who is from San Angelo, says his constituents are aware of what the state spends on criminal justice.
"We have the highest incarceration rate in the United States," Junell says. "If the police are catching them and juries and district attorneys are putting them in jail, we've got to have a place to put `em."
Last week, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said so many male prisoners were awaiting execution it was considering expanding death row to a second prison.