Our ultra-costly and ultra-punitive system is neither protecting
victims nor rehabilitating lawbreakers. It's time for a new
approach, one that consolidates disparate components into unified
local Public Safety Agencies that provide both justice and security
at a much lower cost.
America's criminal justice system is deeply flawed. Beyond the
harsh sentences and wrongful convictions (including innocents on
death row), the system we've created fails to support victims or
reform criminals. Furthermore, the entire system is rooted in a
punitive approach to crime.
America, the land of the free, has the world's largest prison
population (2.3 million) and its highest incarceration rate. And our
overcrowded prisons are disproportionately filled with blacks and
Hispanics, causing many urban communities to lose trust in a system
they consider biased and racist.
In short, our criminal justice system is providing neither
justice nor security.
These fundamental flaws have been ignored for years, but the
staggering cost of fighting crime at a time when cities and states
are going broke is forcing taxpayers to pay attention. People are
right to ask: Why continue to perpetuate a disastrously expensive
and largely ineffective approach to public safety? Isn't there a
There is. But we have to be willing to dismantle our current
piece-meal measures and replace them with an integrated model: a
single Public Safety Agency (PSA) at the local level.
Current system: a heavy burden on taxpayers
Crime - and fighting it - is expensive. Taxpayers bear a heavy
burden to fund the police and related emergency services (911,
medical response, trauma centers), the courts, the correctional
system, probation and parole agents, and social service agencies.
The costs of these services is exacerbated due to the system's
built-in inefficiencies such as redundancies, turf battles,
compartmentalization, lack of cooperation, and lack of integration.
The relationship among various components - for example, between
parole agents and social service agencies - is often adversarial.
This undermines effectiveness and leaves those most in need of help
caught in the middle.
Finally, the political incentives that pervade the system lead to
a focus on superficial metrics achieved (arrests, convictions) - not
lives changed. This focuses the system in a wrong direction and also
neglects the prevention of crime because prevention cannot be
The net result is that victims and their traumatized families
rarely receive adequate financial or psychological help. And
criminals rarely get rehabilitated; instead they go to prisons that
serve as virtual graduate schools for criminality. As a lieutenant
in the Los Angeles Police Department, I have lost count of how many
times I've seen repeat criminals on the road to jail again. Society
ends up paying economically and morally.
A bold, new approach
PSAs would be a paradigm shift.
It would make law officers true servants of the public, enhance
transparency in law enforcement operations, and provide proper
support to the victims, law violators, and their families.
The PSA would prevent first-time offenders from getting hardened
and hardened criminals from getting worse. It would break the cycle
of crime. Additionally, the system would provide far superior
services at a fraction of the cost of the present system. The PSA
would represent a complete transformation in how government provides
justice and safety to communities across America. In essence, it
would be a person-centered, not crime-centered approach to law
The PSA would be a comprehensive collaboration of all public-
safety personnel. Sworn officers, prosecuting and defense attorneys,
emergency response teams, child and family services, social-welfare
agents, community-service specialists, rehabilitation, job training,
drug- and alcohol-abuse counselors, negotiators, psychological
counselors, and probation and parole agents would all work together
in the same building with the same mission. …