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July 14, 2011

Could/will/should the federal debt and deficit showdown have any real criminal justice bite?

I often like to tell my students that every significant public policy story always has a criminal justice and sentencing angle.  (As my chief example, I assert that Bush v. Gore and the broader 2000 presidential election fight over who won Florida was really only made possible because Florida has one of the nation's broadest felon disenfranchisement laws.)  But I am having a hard time figuring out just how the 2011 federal political spat over the debt ceiling and federal spending has any significant criminal justice impact.

Of course, there is no doubt in my mind that that general concerns about the huge US debt and federal deficits are playing a role in the thinking of the Department of Justice and the US Sentencing Commission and others as it related to the economic costs of the federal criminal justice.  But, unlike in states when a huge percentage of budgets go to criminal justice spending, the federal criminal justice system rarely occupies much more than 1% of all federal spending.  Though funds can (and have) been cut from various federal criminal justice programs, it is still unclear to me if and how the current federal debt and deficit showdown inside the Beltway can or will have any real criminal justice bite.

On the assumption that some readers may know a lot more about the important issues of dollars and sense, perhaps somebody in the comments can explain just whether and how sentencing fans can and should have a unique rooting interest in what is keeping DC extra hot and bothered this summer.

July 14, 2011 at 10:56 AM | Permalink


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It seems a lot of the arguing over what programs to cut involve programs (like NPR, NASA, etc) that occupy far less than 1% of the budget. The arguments are less over saving money than they are getting rid of programs that some people don't like for moral or political reasons.

Posted by: NickS | Jul 14, 2011 11:41:41 AM

The feds a great deal of $ to states and localities through block and other grants. I'm not sure how much goes to police, but there's a decent chunk of what's spent on victim services. Many non-profits have been roughed up by the economy and would have difficulty dealing with a shutdown (where grant money is delayed) or further reductions of grants.

Posted by: Paul | Jul 14, 2011 10:05:36 PM

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