Jobs Program Would Help Curb Crime

By Rentschler, William H. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 4, 1994 | Go to article overview

Jobs Program Would Help Curb Crime


Rentschler, William H., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The U.S. Senate crime bill, passed in December, is an abomination - costly, impractical, slapdash, counter-productive, a stale rehash of failed programs. Without radical surgery, it cannot, should not, survive.

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The Senate measure embraces most of the failed approaches of the past two decades: more prisons, more cops, longer sentences, more executions for more crimes.

This won't work today or tomorrow, any more than it has worked in years past. Despite the countless billions thrown at and around the crime monster, violence continues to make our streets as dangerous as those in Beirut and Sarajevo.

Look at these features of the bill.

More prisons. The gimmick this time is regional prisons, where the states can stash their overflow of inmates. But for each dollar a state cajoles in federal money, it must ante up $30 of its own tax dollars. Impossible.

More community cops. Up to 100,000 would walk the beat in high-crime areas. In theory, the idea makes sense, but federal funding pays for the first year only. Then what? The burden, about $70,000 per cop annually, reverts to hard-pressed local communities, where the cupboard is bare. Impractical.

Longer sentences. Euphemistically presented as "truth in sentencing," the bill requires state inmates convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Sounds good if you don't have the full story. But that mandate in Illinois, for example, would rather quickly double the presently bulging prison population. Unrealistic.

Expand the death penalty. The bill enumerates around 50 additional crimes that could result in execution. The rationale seems to be that the more criminals you execute, the fewer cells you need, and cells cost a lot more to build and maintain than the crematorium and pine box. Have we reached that level of barbarism even in our presently fearful society? Doubtful.

For this massive taxpayer boondoggle, the senators have voted to authorize $26 billion. Authorized, not appropriated. Those dollars will come available only through layoffs of 250,000 federal employees, which may never come. So don't hold your breath, good people.

Meanwhile, I offer herewith a simple proposal that would make vastly more sense and go further to reduce crime than all the new prisons we could build and all the new cops we could hire.

Commit at least $20 billion as the down payment on a massive five-year public/private jobs partnership that would create tens of thousands of decent jobs all across the nation. For unemployed young people. For the homeless. For the jobless in high-crime, high-poverty areas. …

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