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The Economic Failure of California’s Prisons

Posted by oshane | Leave a comment at the end of this post.

The antecedent news article can be found here.

Complete economic failure of a prison system for which humane treatment of prisoners is a requirement would probably entail starvation, suicides, rising death rates due to communicable disease contagion and riots. California’s system is exhibiting three of those characteristics now.

The situation is instructive on several levels.

The Irony

First, there is a lesson in irony here, because although the breaking of federal law implies incarceration in a federal prison, most state drug laws are modeled on federal drug law, i.e. everything comprising the failed, unnecessary and immoral War on Drugs. This is, of course, modulo the need for an expansive Commerce Clause which the federal government games on a weekly basis to interfere with and subsume what should be state matters. The irony appears where federal, not state judges, are telling California that its prison population is too large (dense?) for the care the state is able to financially provide its prisoners and where approximately two-thirds of them (as in all American jurisdictions) are incarcerated for drug crimes. Most of those crimes would not exist without the strongarm tactics of the federal government (by having made money-in-exchange-for-compliance-in-passing-law offers the states just could not refuse over the last decades), and therefore many of the prisoners would not be imprisoned, meaning the situation would not exist in the first place.

That is to say, the incarceration of those prisoners was unnecessary to begin with.

The more removed a government is from the local needs and desires of a people (the federal government being maximally removed from all local affairs with respect to state or municipal governments, save Washington, D.C.), the less necessary and more invasive those laws are, because they are applied broadly and with less consideration for the factual circumstances inherent in the lives of the populace in a smaller local body. They are also more expensive, because they require policing of a larger population with an exponentially greater number of interactions between people giving rise to situations exploited to foment and enforce law.

The Economics of the Imposition and Enforcement of Law

Secondly, and to that point, in a vast country such as ours where taxes are levied for many of us through our paychecks in a manner that keeps the magnitude of the money taken invisible, it is easy to forget that the legislation, enforcement and adjudication of those laws costs money. The amount currently required at the federal level for all activities (since the sum total of activities is equivalent to to the total of all legislation, enforcement and adjudication of law) far exceeds the annual budget.

Without respect to any specific law or set of laws, it should be obvious by inspection that the decrease of the number and complexity of the laws made, enforced and adjudicated would necessarily lead to a decrease in the amount of money required to do those actions.

The viability of imprisonment, as a function of enforcement and adjudication, thus, is dependent on the money that can be successfully levied for the construction and maintenance of prisons, the payment for guards and the costs associated with preserving the lives of the inmates. However, these costs are proportional to the number of inmates who the State incarcerates, which is a number itself proportional to the number of laws created, enforced and adjudicated.

The Penal System as a Leading Indicator of State Financial Illness

California is functionally bankrupt, and though there are many real life examples of how this is bearing out, the prisons are a model example. There are 157,000 inmates currently, which is twice the standardized capacity for the California Penal system, and federal judges are looking to reduce that number to approximately 100,000.

Why? Because the lack of funds to provide for “adequate” living space, food and other regulated necessities is causing an increase in death and illness. That is to say, the California Penal system is failing, because it is unaffordable.

It is unaffordable, because there are too many laws to be adequately funded by the citizens of California and because at least some of the laws exact a higher cost to the taxpayers than they provide in benefit.

Lest one argue that the tax system has not been made robust enough to support the administration of all laws in California, of which the Penal system is a leading indicator of health, California exacts high income taxes (7% or more), higher capital gains taxes (9.3%), relatively high property taxes (1%+) and a high sales tax (7.25%-8.75%) against its 33.8 million citizens. Never mind the taxes levied against corporations, vehicle licensing, etc. If extracting more taxes were an answer, California should be successful.

The reasonable conclusion is that too many laws can grow to be unaffordable. Not only does the imposition of more law in general reduce freedom directly, it also indirectly attenuates freedom by requiring the exaction of taxes (a limit on economic freedom) to pay for the enforcement of the laws.

California’s laws have become unaffordable and the State should cut out of its budget those which generate the smallest benefit for the cost (which is most of them).

The United States also falls into this category, because the inability to maintain a budget demonstrates that the number of laws currently enforced and adjudicated is too great for the population to affordably bear, the native immorality of most of them notwithstanding.

One Response to “The Economic Failure of California’s Prisons”

  1. Jefferson V says:

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