The April 20 Roundup contains a couple of quotations that bother me. One is, “the only solution is to build a bigger jail,” and the other, “crime today is not like it was years ago.”
This may be the accepted wisdom in Gila County, or even in Arizona, but doesn’t seem to hold true in the rest of the world; even in New Mexico.
Some statistics (courtesy of the Peru Foundation) that cause me to believe we have options galore. Prisoners per 1000,000 population: Arizona 2007 — 2,000; Arizona 1982 — 440; New Mexico 2007 — 1,100; New Mexico 1982 — 336; USA 2007 — 750; Russia 2007 — 628; Poland 2007 — 236; England 2007 — 148; Germany 2007 — 93; France 2007 — 85.
Does anyone seriously believe that U.S. citizens are that much more criminally inclined than than any other country in the world?
Or maybe, the U.S. and particularly Arizona have gotten carried away by supporting “tough on crime” politicians to the degree that it is bankrupting us. For instance, if Arizona law maintained its 1982 prison ratio of 440 per 100,000 population, (high by present world standards) we would probably be spending some $3 billion less per year than we are currently spending on prisons. Boy, could we use a spare $3 billion these days!
The really intriguing comparison is with New Mexico. New Mexico and Arizona have many similar attributes. We both share a border with Mexico. We both, until this week, rely on the U.S. government to manage border control. We both were originally Hispanic territory. We both have a relatively high percentage of Hispanic residents, legal and illegal. We even have a relatively close percentage of people under criminal control. In Arizona, 1 out of every 33 persons is in prison, on parole, or probation. In New Mexico the corresponding figure is 1 out of 35.
Yet Arizona has almost twice as many people per costs in prison than New Mexico has. I have heard that it costs 10 times as much to keep a person in prison as on parole or probation. As a result Arizona spends 9.5 percent of its general fund monies on criminals while New Mexico spends 4.6 percent.
Perhaps more telling is a similar comparison. For every dollar Arizona spends from general fund monies on education we spend 77 cents on prisoners. New Mexico, on the other hand, spends 32 cents on prisoners for every dollar of education general fund money.
Just think, in addition to the $3 billion per year we could be saving if we had retained the 1982 ratio of prisoners, we would have several billion dollars per year in productive output from these thousands of ex-prisoners. Plus millions in increased tax revenue and we wouldn’t have needed so many illegal immigrants.
Some branch of Arizona state government should start us on a road to major cost reduction by going to New Mexico and studying what they are doing.