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Who Is More Concerned For The Taxpayers?

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on January 28, 2009

Today, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who is normally busy helping drunk drivers and setting up tiny fiefdoms, has a guest opinion piece in the Waukesha Freeman. Even before one gets into the gist of the article, one has to wonder what the Milwaukee County Sheriff is doing writing for a Waukesha-based newspaper. Is this something that he picked up from Scott Walker? That it is better to ignore your own constituents while pandering to those in other counties?

Anyway, back to the article…

Clarke starts out claiming that Senator Lena Taylor is all wrong when she advocates for alternatives to incarceration for non-violent criminals. Clarke wants all criminals, from jaywalkers to murders, locked up. Unfortunately for Clarke, real correctional specialists disagree with him. They point out that if alternatives to incarceration aren’t found, soon, the correctional system could be unsustainable in ten years.

Clarke then makes the assertion that while corrections is indeed expensive, it is not as expensive as educating people. Unfortunately, he offers no proof to his claim, which makes one believe that he is auditioning for a talk radio show, and is just making stuff up as he goes along.

On the other hand, Michael Rosen, who does offer facts to support his assertions show that the truth is directly opposite of Clarke’s baseless claims. While correctional services are increasing exponentially, the costs going towards higher education is steadily declining.

Next we find that Clarke has jumped the shark with his thinking. He makes the proposal that the government should take the stimulus money and spend it all on updating existing prisons and building new ones. He then wants to take all of these brand new and/or refurbished, state of the art, facilities, and give them to the private agencies. His irrational rationale is that the reason that corrections is so expensive is that it is staff by public sector workers.

Again, he gets it all wrong. The Corrections Project has done a comprehensive study of privatization of prisons and found the plan to be lacking:

Some claim that private prisons really don’t save money, but like any for-profit business, attempt to maximize their own profit. This results in a reduction of essential services within the prison — from medical care, food and clothing to staff costs and security — at the endangerment of the public, the inmates and the staff.

Other critiques are concerned with the power and influence of for-profit prisons. At a time when much of public discourse is questioning the war-on-crime and the war-on-drugs being fought as wars, critics claim that the incentive of profit skews public discourse away from reasoned debate about viable solutions to social problems.

And finally, grasping the demographic make-up of today’s prisons in the US and the history that’s produced this make-up (roughly 50% African-American, 35% Latino and 15% White), the privatization of prisons threatens to re-institute a link between race and commerce that has not been seen since the 1800’s.

And that is not all:

Although the predominant myths about PRIVATIZATION (whether of prisons or anything else) claim that privatization means tax savings for the public, it actually costs us more. Even though on paper a private agency or corporation may present a lower figure to do the same job, once that money has been taken out of the public’s hands, it no longer remains ours.

In the public sector, tax money tends to make more of itself, meaning that each public dollar paid through one social service will spend itself four to eight times more elsewhere within the public sector. Once public money goes into private hands however, that money stays there and is gone for good. This is especially true if we consider that privatization corporations are usually given handsome tax breaks and “incentives,” in the form of what some people call “corporate welfare,” which means we are even less likely to see that money again.

And finally, if we remember that the people who privatize are generally wealthy, this reminds us of an old story where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer — where the hard earned tax money from each of us is funneled into the hands of the wealthy few for their own personal gain. While we each like to think we don’t live in a society like that, today this is justified to us through the myth that “free markets” are the same thing as democracy; that if everything is privatized and ruled by the law of the dollar then democracy will be ensured.

Add this to the fact that prisons do not make us safer and are by far the most expensive way of dealing with what we call “crime,” we suffer other costs as well. Social costs of broken families and communities — of both victims and perpetrators; hidden financial costs like paying for the foster care of prisoners’ children; what we will only pay again when a prisoner re-emerges more desperate, addicted, uneducated and disenfranchised than they went in; the vengeance our society seeks through prisons and punishment will cost us twice the price of ensuring true equality, opportunity and social health at the roots of our society.

The PRIVATIZATION OF PRISONS is but one case in which a few people exploit our society’s larger problems for their own gain, at a cost we all bare and get little in return.

As you can see, what Clarke is proposing would actually harm the taxpayers more than help them.

Meanwhile, what about those dastardly public sector workers? What are they doing? Well, they’ve been advocating, successfully, to have the law changed regarding John Doe investigations. This would streamline the system and prevent a lot of frivolous lawsuits. In other words, it would save the taxpayers money. Imagine that.

In summary, what David Clarke is telling us is that, just a few weeks into it, Clarke realizes that he is in way over his head when it comes to running a correctional facility, like the House of Corrections. He is willing to screw the taxpayers, just to get out of running it. Meanwhile, the people he is fighting with, and accusing to be more expensive than they’re worth, are actually doing constructive things that will save the taxpayers’ money.

In the most recent budget, the County Board allowed Scott Walker to abdicate his duties regarding the HOC and put it under Clarke’s jurisdiction. While the move to do so makes sense, in a general fashion, I think that the Board should reverse that decision and take HOC back away from the Sheriff’s Office. At least until we get a Sheriff that is willing and capable of doing the job and doing it correctly.


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