The failure of “business as usual”

2011 begins with a conservative call for prison and criminal justice reform with an editorial in the Washington Post (available here).

There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections – 300 percent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.

We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.

Kudos to Utah authorities for looking for solutions.  But, the soon to be implemented Early Case Resolution program is not one of them.  Unfortunately this “solution” comes with a big price tag, and I am not just talking about the $2,000,000 in federal funds destined to support it (more information available here).  This boondoggle is not about efficiency or justice, it is about fast-tracking those accused of crime into an already over-burdened system by sacrificing Due Process as a collateral casualty of the governments war on crime.

The term “Boondoggle” may also be used to refer to protracted government or corporate projects involving large numbers of people and usually heavy expenditure, where at some point, the key operators, having realized that the project will never work, are still reluctant to bring this to the attention of their superiors. Generally there is an aspect of “going through the motions” – for example, continuing research and development – as long as funds are available to keep paying the researchers’ and executives’ salaries. The situation can be allowed to continue for what seems like unreasonably long periods, as senior management are often reluctant to admit that they allowed a failed project to go on for so long. In many cases, the actual device itself may eventually work, but not well enough to ever recoup its development costs.

The critical feature of a boondoggle, as opposed to a project that simply fails, is the eventual realization by its operators (long before it is shut down or completed) that it is not going to work as intended. This is not the same thing as fraud, a criminal enterprise in which the proponents know in advance that their idea has no merit.

In the “real-world” even simple crimes require time to investigate and review the pertinent information before charges are screened and filed.  Theoretically,  prosecutor has time to review case information before filing charges with the court, introduction of the ECR program will not change that.  People will continue to be arrested  and booked into jail by the police.  In Salt Lake County, it is not uncommon for them to be released from jail without charges being filed, only to be re-arrested weeks or even months later once the case has been screened by the district attorney’s office, only then does the 48 hour resolution clock begin ticking.

In other words, the only ones truly effected will be the defendant and their defense team.  Hmmm, sounds like a win for the government  as they otherwise continue the failed practices of the “business as usual” past.  The ECR is not about justice, it is about expediency and the federal government is ponying up $2 million to finance this boondoggle for the citizens of Salt Lake County.

The Salcido Law Firm is one of a growing chorus of private defense attorneys who are concerned about the program and the human costs associated with its implementation.

The State and its judicial employees should stop complaining about an overburdened case load in the court system.  The reason courts are so busy is because everything is ILLEGAL.  Want to reduce the case load?  Get rid of all of the stupid laws that plague Utah citizens.  Instead of coming up with plans that are sure to negatively impact the due process rights of defendants, talk to the Utah Legislature which is intent on making everyone a criminal.  Return the government to its proper purpose of protecting rights, not trampling on them.

More often than not, it is the simple solution that is most likely to succeed, but when it comes to politics, simple solutions don’t get people elected.   On the other hand, experience has shown that throwing taxpayer money at illegitimate “solutions” coupled with “tough on crime” rhetoric is a proven formula for political success.  Never mind the actual harm caused to the fundamental principles of this great nation or the innocent lives that are devastated whenever a family member is committed to prison or otherwise trapped in a system whose only consistent output is more criminal activity.

Forget about the state of our country where average law-abiding citizens are as likely to commit a felony offense, whether it is a state or federal crime, as they are to violate a traffic ordinance, it is no “solution” to implement a fast track to jail or prison.  And that is what the Early Case Resolution program is all about.

At best, ECR is a band-aid with a hefty price-tag full of collateral unintended consequences.  It will do nothing to protect the public.  Instead, why not build upon solutions that have measurable results – what about a veteran’s court? what about a DUI court? what about expanding services for drug court?  what about offender re-entry?

Why not spend the $2 million working to reduce recidivism instead of developing new, improved, and faster ways to get people into the system?

Instead, we are faced with a program being implemented that offers pure fiction to the citizens of Utah.  According to a KSL editorial on the subject (available here):

Imagine the positive impact on chronically over-crowded jails and a burdened judicial system if 30-percent of all felony cases could be resolved within 7 to 14 days! That is the announced goal of an innovative “Early Case Resolution (ECR)” program Salt Lake District Attorney Lohra Miller is pushing.

The operative word here is IMAGINE.  ECR is an empty promise of fantasy in a misguided effort chasing art.  We don’t live in a reality show that only has 48 hours or even 30 days to achieve justice.  We are talking about human lives and decisions that will continue to impact the life of the accused (and their family) for the remainder of their life.

System Failure