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TLP: Pretty Soon, the Criminal Code Will Have a Spreadsheet Appendix

TLP: Pretty Soon, the Criminal Code Will Have a Spreadsheet Appendix

Courtesy of Jr. Deputy Accountant 

justice costs

The budget crunch crippling state government finances has led to a lot of creativity in cutting costs. New fees, reduced services, IOUs, wholesale contracting for public employees, privatization.

Missouri, it turns out, is playing the game a different way. Call it hinting.

NYT:

When judges here sentence convicted criminals, a new and unusual variable is available for them to consider: what a given punishment will cost the State of Missouri.

For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.

Legal experts say no other state systematically provides such information to judges, a practice put into effect here last month by the state’s sentencing advisory commission, an appointed board that offers guidance on criminal sentencing.

The practice has touched off a sharp debate. It has been lauded nationally by a disparate group of defense lawyers and fiscal conservatives, who consider it an overdue tool that will force judges to ponder alternatives to prison more seriously.

But critics — prosecutors especially — dismiss the idea as unseemly. They say that the cost of punishment is an irrelevant consideration when deciding a criminal’s fate and that there is a risk of overlooking the larger social costs of crime.

“Justice isn’t subject to a mathematical formula,” said Robert P. McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County.

Maybe not, but let’s not put it past potential criminals to take the hint seemingly being offered to the Missouri judiciary: If you want to stay out of jail, commit a crime with a really steep price tag. 

 


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