Before you decide, I’ve got a short story to tell.
I have to disclose from the beginning that I am a public employee and anything I post in this blog is my own opinion and not that of any employer.
Several years ago, many studies were conducted in order to determine the costs/benefits of imprisoning convicted criminals. After all, the United States puts more people in jail per capita than most other countries in the world. Through the 80’s and 90’s there was a loud cry from the public to “get tough on crime.” That meant increasing incarceration penalties for many offenses.
The federal government and many states passed legislation called “three strikes and you’re out,” which meant after three convictions for particular offenses, the criminals were committed to prison.
After several years of incarcerating more criminals, studies revealed the high cost of imprisoning people–and many citizens thought the costs to the taxpayer were too high.
Consequently, in the past ten years, many states have relaxed their imprisonment rules and have relied more on closely monitored probation sentences for many offenders. Of course, the most hard-core murderers, robbers, drug sellers, and rapists still go to jail. But those convicted of less serious offenses have been moved to probation status.
It made sense to many people since the costs of probation are minimal, particularly compared to prison where the taxpayer picks up the tab for room and board, education, health care, mental health services, and recreation.
However, to place people on probation and be assured the offenders will not re-offend requires a program of close supervision by trained probation officers. Although the taxpayer pays for the salary and benefits of probation officers, including health and pension benefits, the total cost is a fraction of that spent on jails and prisons.
Makes sense, huh?
The current political move to “down-size” government and cut back on public employees means that a certain number of probation officers may have to be laid-off. Or if not, no new hires in the coming years.
At the same time we are letting more people out of prison to be monitored by probation officers, the government is threatening to reduce the number of public employees–which could include probation officers. For several years, the judicial branch of government has seen drastic cut-backs in funding which translates to cut-backs in the supervision of offenders.
From my own perspective working in the court system, I’ve seen the results of these cut-backs. Fewer probation officers labor under larger case loads–meaning they have less time to effectively pay attention to those offenders the officers are responsible for supervising.
I guess the easiest way to say it is: you can’t have your cake and eat it too! If taxpayers don’t want to pay for keeping offenders off the streets in prison, then they should be willing to fund for the close monitoring of criminals who are living in our communities.
Think about this when you hear people urging cut-backs in public employees.