Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cost of Taking a Bite out of Crime

By Kathy Young, Director of Operations.  

Last month my colleague Matt Tarleton and I attended a lunch and learn event sponsored by our partners at the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) and hosted by one of our clients, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. Over the course of an hour or so, we – along with a diverse group of chamber leaders from throughout Georgia – were brought up to speed on criminal justice reform at the state level. Specifically, the guest speakers focused on making the business case for reform, and connecting local leaders back to policy initiatives currently taking place in Georgia and elsewhere in the nation. 

Given the dire state of local and state budgets, the call to analyze publicly funded efforts from every angle including efficiency, return on investment, and potential fallout from drastic cuts – is at a fever pitch. The decisions are hard enough without having defensible data. Fortunately, the folks at the Pew Center on the States have put together some excellent resources to inform this particular debate. Some interesting statistics were featured during the discussion, including:

• In the last 20 years state corrections spending has jumped more than $40 billion. 
• Corrections is the second fastest growing state budget category behind Medicaid. 
• One in every 100 adults is now behind bars.

While our session featured a report from the Chair of the Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, there were also a number of highlights from what other states are doing to balance public safety needs with cost containment. There has been a good bit of work in the past six months, ranging from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s announcement of a new public safety initiative to the sometimes controversial expansionof power being wielded in local drug courts.

Public safety systems at the local level and policy decisions at the regional and state level have a tremendous impact on a community’s attractiveness and competitive position. Tackling the myriad of complicated factors that are part of this issue head-on is never easy, but going in armed with good data and a solid business case can help balance the emotional reaction that naturally comes with the territory.