Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lights Flashing, Gates Down, Cars on the Track has a cold splash of water for state and local government finance in the future that has clear relevance for corr sent policy, echoing what we’ve been saying here since the outset. Let’s give you a few quotes and then talk:

After a few years of healthy growth in revenue, dark clouds are beginning to form on the fiscal horizon for state and local governments, as even some states that have prospered in recent years are seeing a downturn. More worrisome is that the long-term forecast looks considerably worse.
Then there is the longer-term outlook, and it closely mirrors what experts see for the federal budget. In July, Comptroller General David M. Walker, who has been speaking around the country for the past two years warning of the impending fiscal train wreck at the federal level, personally released a Government Accountability Office report on the future outlook for state and local finances. Not surprisingly, it was pessimistic. Within a decade, it predicted, barring changes in taxes or spending patterns, states will begin to be overcome by their health care obligations, for both Medicaid and insurance for their employees and retirees. The trend lines throughout the report are ominous: All move in the wrong direction as the decades unfold. In a word, current conditions are unsustainable.

That might not be so worrisome if everything else remained static. But it doesn’t. Not only is Washington less and less capable of doing anything new, but there’s every reason to believe states and localities will be pressed to take the lead in more and more areas where the federal government isn’t.

The question will be how they can afford it.

We act in corr sent as if the fiscal future will be the same as now or that all other needs, including those in criminal justice, besides prisons can be blown off in the name of “public safety” when prisons haven’t been shown to be the best way even to provide that for most offenders most of the time. “Not my problem” is the answer you get from too many corr sent practitioners when asked how states and cities will come up with the money to spend on their empires. “Can’t put a price on justice,” they’ll say, as we cut juvenile justice, law enforcement, prosecutors and courts, any effective treatment programs. In my own recent experience, WI lost its last chance to do anything meaningful about corralling the exponential growth it’s looking at in prison and supervision costs when a handful of judges proclaimed that their very self-limited “discretion” was more important than their state’s long-term ability to meet all its needs. Doug Berman conveniently linked to an article on the train wreck happening in MS today. (Feel free to insert stories from your own state, but first check to see if your housing market is in this list of those most likely to decline. It probably is.) And this article never even touched what future governments will face in higher energy costs, water projects, and other impacts of global warming, and they’re coming faster than even those scary models have been predicting.

This is why I believe that TECHNOCORRECTIONS, for all the pitfalls and disasters that may wait down that path, is virtually inevitable. When hooey meets fan as predicted above, policymakers will desperately be looking for something that sounds punitive and costs less. Well-attired young former college cheerleaders and state pageant queens will enter their offices with bright eyes and smiles, waxed legs, and answers to all their problems. We’re already seeing it (and not just in crim just, as this semi-scary article on MRIs and voice stress and lie detectors shows), and hooey is just getting geared up. We know what would work better than prisons in reducing more crime, but it will cost more short-term and require patience before the savings kick in. We’re renowned for supporting those kinds of options, aren’t we. So, in the meantime, despite a few pockets here and there, it’s mainly la, la, la, I can’t hear that train. Let’s keep edging out on the tracks.

[For a follow-up on yesterday’s post on the TECHNO implications of research to tailor pharmaceutical treatments to specific bio types, check out this story on the use of MRIs to better fit pharma treatments to depression patients. Again, these things can be applied, albeit tenuously perhaps, in the future to offenders and their “treatment.” And the smiling young women in the legislators’ offices will be experts, we're sure.]

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