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August 20, 2009

"Priority Test: Health Care or Prisons?"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective op-ed from the pen of Nicholas D. Kristof in today's New York Times. Here are excerpts:

At a time when we Americans may abandon health care reform because it supposedly is “too expensive,” how is it that we can afford to imprison people like Curtis Wilkerson? 

Mr. Wilkerson is serving a life sentence in California — for stealing a $2.50 pair of socks.  As The Economist noted recently, he already had two offenses on his record (both for abetting robbery at age 19), and so the “three strikes” law resulted in a life sentence.

This is unjust, of course. But considering that California spends almost $49,000 annually per prison inmate, it’s also an extraordinary waste of money.

Astonishingly, many politicians seem to think that we should lead the world in prisons, not in health care or education. The United States is anomalous among industrialized countries in the high proportion of people we incarcerate; likewise, we stand out in the high proportion of people who have no medical care — and partly as a result, our health care outcomes such as life expectancy and infant mortality are unusually poor.

It's time for a fundamental re-evaluation of the criminal justice system, as legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Webb has called for, so that we’re no longer squandering money that would be far better spent on education or health....

Look, there’s no doubt that many people in prison are cold-blooded monsters who deserve to be there. But over all, in a time of limited resources, we’re overinvesting in prisons and underinvesting in schools.

Indeed, education spending may reduce the need for incarceration. The evidence on this isn’t conclusive, but it’s noteworthy that graduates of the Perry Preschool program in Michigan, an intensive effort for disadvantaged children in the 1960s, were some 40 percent less likely to be arrested than those in a control group.

Above all, it’s time for a rethink of our drug policy. The point is not to surrender to narcotics, but to learn from our approach to both tobacco and alcohol. Over time, we have developed public health strategies that have been quite successful in reducing the harm from smoking and drinking....

Opponents of universal health care and early childhood education say we can’t afford them. Granted, deficits are a real constraint and we can’t do everything, and prison reform won’t come near to fully financing health care reform. Still, would we rather use scarce resources to educate children and heal the sick, or to imprison people because they used drugs or stole a pair of socks?   

August 20, 2009 at 01:49 PM | Permalink


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I have lots of problems with using infant mortality numbers as an indication of much of anything. The category is just too easy to fudge, much like crime stat comparisons between nations, it just doesn't work when you compare the details of what is being reported.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 20, 2009 2:35:13 PM

There is an easy explanation and easy solution to the crime problem, beside 123D.

End lawyer forced bastardy. The lawyer destroyed teh black family in the 1960's. He began his campaign against the white family in the 1990's. You can markedly reduce criminality and criminal victimization by promoting family formation and ending the massive, devastating campaign for the annihilation of the family by the vile feminist lawyer. It continues today, by the attempt to devalue the family. The lawyer wants to make it equivalent in standing to what will never be more than a friendship between homosexuals.

If you love crime victimization, thank the feminist lawyer.

When you expel a criminal from school, everyone else learns better. The idea that spending money on schools or health will lower crime is ridiculous rent seeking by government dependent teachers and doctors.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 20, 2009 6:20:22 PM

Seriously, Professor Berman, the comments section of this blog is becoming unreadable.

Posted by: NCProsecutor | Aug 21, 2009 9:38:21 AM

Seriously, Professor, life under lawyer crime control is becoming unlivable.

The lawyer will only prosecute 1 in 100 crimes. The source of his job, the criminal, has nearly absolute immunity. Why? Lawyer rent seeking. Lazy, worthless, government hacks refuse to do their duty, to protect the public that pays their salary. They allow 23 million FBI Index felonies a year, 5 million being violent. The lawyer run criminal law is in utter failure. The lawyer needs to be removed for public safety reasons.

By statute, they preclude substantive punishments that may reduce crime. When, after public outrage, they enact sentencing guidelines to restrain the criminal lover judges in their love of the criminal, what follows? The crime rate dips 40%. The criminal lovers on the Supreme Court panic. They knock down federal guidelines. In insurrection against the constitution, the criminal lovers knock down state guidelines, which are none of their business. In the next five years, the criminals that will be loosed, especially on minority neighborhoods, will restore the intentionally high crime rates of the 1970's and 1980's. Why on earth would the criminal lover lawyer want to do that? To generate a lot of lawyer make work, do nothing jobs.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 21, 2009 10:54:47 PM

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