Increasing cost of fighting crime in the US
Over the past decade, America’s justice system has come under attack from the tax payers for its ineffectiveness. As at 2015, there were more than 2.2 million people incarcerated in the country’s jails and prisons. This figure is approximately the population of people incarcerated in about 80 countries of the world. It has been estimated that the cost of fighting crime in the US costs much more than the war in Iraq. While it is the government’s duty to fight crime and safeguard its citizens, the cost of fighting this crime is somewhat astounding. The United States spends more than 80 billion dollars every year in keeping incarcerated criminals behind bars. In Michigan, for instance, the 2 billion dollars in annual budgetary allocation for ‘criminals’ is more than the money spent on the students that seek higher education. The situation in Michigan is not an isolated case but a reflection of the state of affairs in the entire country. The cost is further inflated due to the combination of measures that are put in place in different departments all geared towards fighting crime. Fighting crime is essential in maintaining law and order, but its cost has been increasing steadily.
One of the leading users of the costs of fighting crime is in the federal bureau of prisons. It has become extremely costly to maintain prisoners leading a surge in the budgetary allocations to the prison department. The cost of keeping one prisoner behind bars per year is estimated to be 28, 838 dollars on average. In some states, the figure goes over the average such as in New York City where the cost is averaged at 60, 000 dollars per year. Effectively, the high cost of keeping prisoners is s burden to the tax payers who have to part with large amounts of money to keep criminals incarcerated. The total cost of prisons to the taxpayers is almost 40 billion dollars when costs outside the corrections budget are included (Pryor, 2002). The high budgetary allocation to prisons means that part of the money that could have been used for socio economic development are channeled to prison departments. The effect is that the living standards of the tax payers continue to deteriorate at the expense of criminal incarceration. In 2010, more than ten thousand students could have used the money used by prisoners to pursue higher education therefore reducing the parent’s economic burden. This leads to high living standards for not only the parents but the general population.
Despite the money spent directly on the prisoners, there are a lot of additional costs used in the prisons that hike the cost of incarceration. It is way too expensive to maintain the prisons themselves and the staff that work in those prisons. Over the last decade, the United States has witnessed an increase in the prisons expenditure partly due to the need for technological integration of the prison systems. The government has to make allocations towards prisons employee’s benefits and taxes. This is in addition to the salaries that these employees get for their correctional services. Essentially, funding for some workers’ costs including health insurance and social security taxes are paid by a central administrative fund in most states. In addition, the government further allocates a substantial amount of funds towards the pension benefits of the employees. Every year, the government further spends huge chunks of money in retirement benefits for the prison workers. Moreover, all the administrative costs of the federal prisons are catered for by the government therefore increasing the allocation by huge margins.
There is a tendency in the United States to incarcerate criminals for long jail terms. The result of these prolonged sentences is the need for more prisons to cater for the burgeoning numbers in prisoners (Martin, Lichtenstein, Jenkot & Forde, 2012). In the course of the years, all the federal prisons will at least require huge capital costs for the processes of renovation and construction and this adds onto the budgetary allocations that the government sets aside. The federal bureau of prisons estimates the cost of building a new prison to be between 98 million dollars and 162 million dollars depending on the location of the prison. In addition, there are varied additional costs of operation that come along with construction of new prisons. Ultimately, all these costs add onto the burden that the government carries in relation to incarcerating criminals.
The impact of long jail terms can also lead to high prison costs albeit indirectly. Research has shown that prolonged jail terms are a contributing factor to recidivism among the criminals incarcerated. This means that the criminals become repeat offenders thereby pushing the cost of incarcerating theme further. The effect of jail terms is the frustration of the criminals and thus making them prone to recidivism (Cole, Smith & DeJong, 2014). The high level of recidivism among United States criminals translates to a higher cost of keeping criminals incarcerated as the life cycle is prolonged further. The result is that the prisons are becoming less effective in administering behavioral change in the criminals. Essentially, the government invests in prisons that are much less effective and giving little value in return.
Despite the smart mechanisms that the government has put in place to dissuade criminal activities, the criminals have proved to be smarter and therefore harder to capture. The criminal and especially those in the cyber crime leave little trace of their identity making it extremely hard for the government to track such criminals. The condition has rendered it very expensive to get cybercriminals. The use of technology in planning and executing crime has further compounded the situation as more criminals operate undetected by the government officials. For instance, hackers can operate in unidentified locations and fleece large amounts of money from unsuspecting citizen and even government accounts. Tracking of these type of criminals is one of the most challenging tasks that law enforcement officers face in the course of their duty. To curb these kind of crimes, the government has to invest in sophisticated equipment and highly skilled personnel that can track the cybercriminals. In 2013, the government used about 25 billion dollars in installation of sophisticated equipment for use in the law enforcement units.
In addition to the smart and undetected criminals, some of the crimes are orchestrated by rogue police officers. Most of the crimes conducted in the United States are either by police officers or their accomplices. Some rogue officers are also bribed by the criminals into keeping quiet and away from the scene of crime while the criminals conduct their operations. Moreover, some of the criminals are former police officers who know the workings of the police departments. This fact means that the criminals can skirt around the system without being caught as they know the operations of the officers. Moreover, the criminals can identify loopholes in the crime prevention units since they have a deeper understanding of how it operates. In the past three years, more than 300 police officers have been convicted of criminal charges in the United States. The proliferation in the number of rogue police officers is a challenge in the fight against crime as preventing such kind of crime is difficult and unpredictable.
The increase in the number of rogue officers, coupled with the sophistication of crimes has led to the need for better police training to match the cunningness of modern crime. The government has invested on personnel training for its police officers to match the standards capable of foiling criminal activities before they are orchestrated. This fact is evidenced by the many special departments in the police force that are committed to fighting crime. Moreover, the sophisticated equipment in the fight against crime requires that police officer are trained on how to effectively use them in foiling criminal activities. The cost of training is not limited to the police officers alone but also includes training prosecutors who have to be up to date with current trends. Moreover, criminal investigators and those that collect evidence have to be up to date with the current technological advancements thus calling for further training. Essentially, the government allocates huge amounts of money for the training of its officers on how to fight crime effectively. Further, training is not a one-way process but one that is continuously administered depending on the need and the dynamics within the criminal justice system.
The high number of criminals over the past decade has led to a need for an increase in the police force to match the growing numbers. The government cannot be at a risk of being outnumbered by the criminals and thus needs to keep on adding to its number of police officers. Moreover, the growing population in the United States requires more police officers to increase the ratio of police officers to citizens. Every year, the government embarks on recruitment drives targeting the young people to enroll in the police force. This increase in the recruitment of police officers has been occasioned, in part, by the increase in the number of criminals in the United States.
In addition to crime prevention, the government spends a lot of money in committing the criminals to justice. This is done through the US Attorneys and Marshals Service both of which serve in the judicial service of the United States. The US Attorney’s office is one of the main consumers of government funds through the money allocated for prosecuting cases. Due to an increase in the number of criminals in the US, there has been a rise in the number of cases up for possible prosecution. In this regard, there is a need for more fund allocation to US Attorney’s office to cater for the burgeoning build up of criminal cases. Moreover, there is a need for employment of more prosecutors in the department to cater for the influx in the number of criminals. These factors have led to a demand for money from the government leading a larger burden on the country’s economy. In addition, the employees demand a higher pay due to the high number of cases that they are bound to handle.
In addition to the high increase in the costs of maintain the US Attorneys, the security budget has increased due to the need to protect the personnel. It is obvious that with the sensitive cases that the people handle, they are prone to attacks from gang members and organized crime cartels. In this regard, the government has procured the services of security personnel to protect the employees from possible attacks thereby increasing the costs further. Most of the US Attorneys are under 24 hour protection from elite security personnel. The task of protecting these people is a big challenge to the US government due to high cost involved.
In addition to the US Attorneys, the government has to fund the Marshals Service which is a facilitator of the prisoners’ movement. The increase in the number of prisoners has meant that the Marshals service has to be more empowered to cater for the same. The service is tasked with the responsibility of moving the prisoners from the courts to the prisons and back. There is a need for the government to allocate more funds towards the Marshals Service to deal with the increased number of prisoners. In essence, the government ends up spending huge chunks of money in the process of transferring prisoners from one point to the other. Moreover, the increased sensitivity in the cases requires that the judges involved in such cases be protected by the Marshals (Meagher, 2015). In this regard, the government has to allocate more funds towards securing the judges and other detectives involved in the prosecution of suspects. The high number of Marshals requires the allocation of more funds to dissuade criminals from attacking the judges.
In the prevention of criminal activities in the United States, the government has to invest large amounts of money in the installation of security cameras for surveillance and intelligence gathering. Most parts of the country are now under 24-hour surveillance by security cameras to both dissuade and identify crime. In addition, there is an increasing demand for smart police units in the United States (Nabain, 2013). The installation of these cameras within the streets and on buildings is extremely expensive for the government. Although the effectiveness of these cameras cannot be doubted, the cost of implementation and running of the cameras is quite expensive and is one of the leading factors that drain the public coffers. Moreover, these cameras require constant monitoring by specially trained personnel for analysis of the information gathered. In addition to the cameras, the government requires special scanning systems to be incorporated at border points. These scanning systems are used in the detection of drugs and ammunition that may be used in criminal activities. The cost of implementing and managing these systems adds on to the high cost of preventing criminal activities.
The smart systems needed for prevention and identification of crime require frequent service for effective performance. The management of these systems requires a high number of personnel for monitoring and information gathering. Moreover, the smart systems require the personnel to be highly trained. In addition to the cost of managing the smart systems, there are additional costs in the maintenance of the systems. These systems are prone to regular breakdowns through the normal process of wear and tear. The regular breakdown of the systems calls for expensive replacements to avoid hitches in the collection of information. All these process associated with management and maintenance of the smart systems requires vast funding from the government. The government therefore allocates huge amounts of funds towards implementation of the systems.
While the government has committed huge amounts resources of towards fighting crime, it has come at a huge cost to the economy. The cost of fighting crime in the US is increasing steadily due to increased prison expenses, sophisticated crimes, US Attorneys and Marshals and the need to have smart policing systems. These costs have come at the expense of other sectors of the economy that have been underfunded.
Cole, G. F., Smith, C. E., & DeJong, C. (2014). Criminal justice in America. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Martin, J., Lichtenstein, B., Jenkot, R., & Forde, D. (2012). “They Can Take Us Over Any Time They Want”: Correctional Officers’ Responses to Prison Crowding. The Prison Journal, 88-105.
Meagher, T. (2015). The Cost of Crime Fighting: Reading Between the Line of Items of Department of Justice Budgets, Past and Present. The Marshall Project.
Nabian, N. (2013). Smart Cities, Smart US. Learning from the World.
Pryor, F. L. (2002). The future of U.S. capitalism. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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