The price of justice

despite its lower-than-average crime rate, Massachusetts ranks near the top in state spending per capita on the criminal-justice system. One reason is that the Bay State tends to spend more on all government functions, but the percentage of financial resources devoted to fighting crime is also high here. As of 2003, nearly one in seven public employees (13.2 percent) in Massachusetts worked in the justice system, up from 11.7 percent in 1992. In the US as a whole, the percentage of state and local employees working in the anti-crime sector rose more slowly, from 11.6 percent to 12.7 percent.

During the same period, the percentage of justice system employees in Massachusetts who work in “police protection” jumped from 52.8 percent to 55.6 percent, the highest such share in the nation. “Judicial and legal” employees went from 17.4 percent to 21.9 percent of the total, and “corrections” employees dropped from 29.7 to 21.9 percent of the total —placing us dead last among the 50 states. The US as a whole went in another direction, with state and local police forces slipping from 46.1 percent to 44.7 percent of total justice employees. While police effectively outnumber prison workers by more than two to one in the Bay State, our polar opposite is Texas, where corrections employees outnumber police by 45.5 percent to 38.8 percent.

But Texas may be a better illustration of longer-term trends. According to the Justice Department, state and local expenditures for police protection increased 567 percent from 1977 through 2003, but spending on corrections departments went up by a staggering 1,173 percent at the same time.

Expenditures for education, by the way, rose by 505 percent, and spending for health care increased by 572 percent.

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*Source: Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003, released April 2006 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics  ( Workforce figures are based on “full-time equivalent employment.”