« High-profile capital trials put spotlight on dynamics of death-qualification of jurors | Main | The SCOTUS culture of death: "Execution Case Highlights the Power of One Vote" »

January 26, 2015

Shouldn't true fiscal conservatives question a federal program with 600% recent spending growth?

PSPP_Fed_Growth_FS_fig1The question in the title of this post is part of my reaction to this new fact sheet released by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. The Pew document is titled "Growth in Federal Prison System Exceeds States': Federal imprisonment rate, taxpayer costs soar as states curtail expansion, protect public safety," and here is how it starts (footnoted omitted):

Between 1980 and 2013, the federal imprisonment rate increased 518 percent, from 11 inmates for every 100,000 U.S. residents to 68.  During the same period, annual spending on the federal prison system rose 595 percent, from $970 million to more than $6.7 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.  Prison expenditures grew from 14 percent of the Justice Department’s total outlays to 23 percent, increasingly competing for resources with law enforcement and national security programs.

States, like the federal government, recorded sharp increases in incarceration and corrections costs over the past three decades.  However, between 2007 and 2013, many states made research-driven policy changes to control prison growth, reduce recidivism, and contain costs. While the federal imprisonment rate continued to rise during that period, the state rate declined.

Folks like Bill Otis and some other defenders of the modern state of the modern federal criminal justice system are often suspect when I (and others like Senator Rand Paul and Grover Norquist) assert that a true commitment to conservative values should prompt serious questions about the size and operation of federal criminal justice system.  And I fully understand how folks committed to certain social conservative values, and who also believe the federal government should be actively promoting certain social values, can continue to support strongly the federal war on drugs and ever-increasing federal expenditures in service to promoting certain social values.

But, as the title of this post suggests, I do not understand how anyone who is truly committed to fiscal conservative values is not now compelled to examine whether it is wise to keep spending/borrowing more and more federal monies to keep growing the federal prison system.  As this Pew document and many others have highlighted, a significant number of states have been able to reduce its spending on incarceration over the last decade without any obvious harmful impact on public safety.  My advocacy for federal sentencing reform is based largely on the hope and belief that the feds can now do the same.

January 26, 2015 at 09:06 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Shouldn't true fiscal conservatives question a federal program with 600% recent spending growth?:


A 600% growth in spending, way too late to react.

As soon as the budget us exhausted, one jumps on the band wagon and says no more money for you this yr.

But I have brain damage, the feds dont have a budget, so my method is a bust.

Not much else to say or do. Yikes.

Posted by: 187Midwest Guy | Jan 26, 2015 10:00:19 AM

Conservatives have no trouble paying taxes, nor even increasing taxes, if they are for profit, and not for rent. In the rent, one pays to avoid being arrested, but one gets nothing back. If the average criminal is committing 200 crimes a year, without specialization, and each does $10000 in damage, the $50000 spent on incarceration is a great investment, with a great return, year after year, for 40 years from age 14 to 54. These crimes are common law crimes, and not the regulatory over criminalization of ordinary life. Nor do I differentiate between political parties or ideologies. George Bush blew up the federal register, the bureaucracy with worthless make work jobs in Homeland Security. Both parties are rent seekers.

Rent seeking should be an additional crime in the Federal Code. The death penalty for anyone causing more than $6 million in rent. End all sovereign immunity from such a a law

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jan 26, 2015 2:12:46 PM

Let's be clear. There are TWO separate entities within the GOP: The Establishment GOP, who is for Big Government, Big Military, and Big Spending, and the conservative/libertarian element, whom are NOT Big Goverment, NOT Big Spending, and only Big Military as it is the only federal function specifically tasked to fund ("General Welfare" is NOT a "Great Society" welfare program). We can discuss what constituted Big Military, though arguably I would say a military that is large enough to deter and inhibit the disruption of our other constitutional freedoms.

But the Establishment GOP essentially is Democratic-Lite, and they have one thing in common: Spending, spending, and more spending. They TALK the conservative beat all the time, but when push comes to shove they are trying to destroy the conservatives just as much, if not more than, the Democrats and the mainstream media themselves.

So I DISAGREE that the "conservatives" are behind ANY federal increase in spending (except for military, which is less than 15% of the whole budege anyway).

However, I completely AGREE that the Establishment GOP, and current leadership of the Republican Party, is pragmatically just as guilty in running up the debt in this country, and more specifically, creating a LOT of jobs for lawyers all around.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Jan 26, 2015 8:25:12 PM

It is hard to understand how people who believe they are conservatives could support the rise in incarceration, either by the increasing length of sentences or increasing criminal codes. Conservatives generally believe in less government spending, but also give lip service to smaller less intrusive federal government.

I would tend to believe that many who call themselves conservatives derive their income from over criminalization and incarceration. Lots of government employees who think of themselves as conservatives are employed in government criminal justice jobs. Some private sector businesses are also beholden to these criminal justice related contracts. Just take a look at the contracts - bid and nonbid- that are given by the BOP, Justice Department etc.

The civil and criminal asset forfeiture that goes along with overcriminalization is also a wind fall for many who believe they are conservatives

Posted by: beth curtis | Jan 26, 2015 8:59:07 PM

Yes, its true, however republicans will pay for such increases by cutting education,infrastructure,health care,etc

One point to note though, spending on prisoners does vary depending on age,health of the prisoner, and of course lawsuits though the plra limits lawsuits includI wing legitimate ones
,ie mental abuse is does not count, in other words if you are stripped naked or in some cases sexually abused w/o injury its hard to sue, and you must file grievances even if its a mountain-work of paperwork that has no purpose other than to make it difficult to sue.

Even David Keane agrees with this.

I would not necessarily call the GOP establishment , democrat-lite, its a bit more complex.

For instance could someone who disagrees with the GOP establishment be called a RINO?
If one voted against the drugs laws,abortion laws, foreign aid, defense spending
to fund useless projects for companies,or the iraq war, they would probably be called a RINO circa in the 80s,90s, and probably up until 2010.

Furthermore, big business does infiltrate the tea party, its goes a bit like this, a conservative pro-gun,anti-tax politician gets money from big businesses to pass special legislation, because the politician is still voting for gun rights and "abolishing the irs" they can swing by the "conservative label"

Here's another problem the GOP establishment can stay in power by calling tea par-tiers "extremist". Remember the republican main street coalition? It was interesting, they would please big business but were more libertarian on say social issues, thus they were considered "RINOS not because they were in toe with big business but because maybe the voted against iraq war,abortion restrictions,drug laws,etc".

So what's one to do, well politicians don't really represent your interests, they'll tell you what you want to hear and hope you'll ignore the rest.

Posted by: alex | Jan 27, 2015 1:49:30 AM

The figure of speech - "fiscal conservative" - is meaningless and intentionally misleading. It's nothing more than a brand.

The USG, because it issues its own currency that is not pegged to another currency or commodity and pays its bills in its own currency, can never run out of money. USG spending is not constrained, like state and local governments which are currency users not currency issuers, by tax receipts. USG spending is only constrained by inflation. While state and local governments have to tax first before they can spend, the USG has to spend first before it can tax. USG spending is how currency gets into circulation, where state and local governments and the private sector can use it for whatever they want and then be collected as taxes.

Fiscal conservatives like to mislead regular people into believing that the USG is just like a husband and wife sitting at the kitchen table deciding which bills to pay or not. The leadership of both parties in Washington know otherwise. But it is convenient for them to perpetuate this misconception, because it allows them to frame spending issues whereby they can always say no, notwithstanding the merits of a particular spending proposal. Have you ever noticed that anytime they want to spend money on something near and dear to them, they have no problem finding (key stroking) the money.

So if the USG wants to have a massive criminal justice system, they can have it. They laugh to themselves when anyone tries to oppose a particular spending program that they want by arguing that we can't afford it, or in other words, the deficit.

Before anyone goes off on me for writing this, remember at the beginning of this comment I stated that USG spending is only constrained by inflation. We can't have everything. But we can a lot more than we presently have, including, but not limited to, an even larger federal criminal justice system.

Posted by: Fred | Jan 27, 2015 9:08:57 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB