Out of work? Justice is hiring
As cash-challenged states such as California and Kansas cope with budget crunches (in part) by closing their prisons and jails, the Obama administration is taking the opposite tack— beefing up law enforcement and incarceration across the board. As part of a proposed $1.5 billion increase for the Justice Department in 2011, an additional $527.5 million would be allotted for the Bureau of Prisons, bringing their annual budget to $6.8 billion. Much of that increase ($170m) would go toward purchasing and renovating the Thomson Correctional Facility in Illinois, where Obama hopes to house Guantanamo prisoners after they are moved to US soil. But here is math I don’t understand: while $59 million would be used to fill 1,200 currently vacant prison jobs, a much larger chunk—$95 million—would be spent next year to hire only 652 new prison guards, to be split between Thomson and the new federal prison in Berlin, N.H. Special training perhaps?
Alternatives to incarceration—such as home detention and substance abuse/mental illness treatment—are seeing renewed interest in states that realize how unwieldy and expensive their prison/jail systems have become. Not so on the federal level, where overcrowding and understaffing continue to plague prisons and attacks on guards “are becoming more severe,” according to a spokeswoman for the BOP. John Gage, the president of the American Federation of Government Employees, calls the situation “dire” and went on the record as applauding plans for hundreds of new hires.
The nation’s prisons wouldn’t be the only new law enforcement on the the scene; the 5 percent Justice Department increase will also go toward hiring attorneys and analysts, as well as nearly 450 additional agents and marshals in the FBI, BATF, and US Marshals Service, for a total net increase of 2,800 employees. The Department is also predicting that the federal prison system will grow by 7,000 inmates in 2011, the equivalent of three or so new prisons.
All this might make you think hey, crime rates must be on the rise. No — they are actually falling. According the FBI’s own statistics, both violent crimes and property crimes decreased during the first half of 2009, despite the recession.