Is it just us or do you get the uneasy feeling the cost of crime and punishment is going to bankrupt this county?
It sure seems that way, particularly given the threat lobbed the sheriff’s office’s way this week — maintain your budget or face prosecution.
Nervous flashbacks of DeMeo v Beckett followed. Kunzi v DeMeo, or more like Nye County v DeMeo, boils down to an enormous cost overrun — more than $700,000 — recorded this last fiscal year by the county’s law enforcement office. As much as we would Enjoy telling you all that money was spent on donuts and lavish out-of-town “training” exercises, that wouldn’t be correct. No, there’s an enormous amount of criminal activity taking place in Nye County, particularly in Pahrump. Of course, we only get to tell you about the arrests — the activity that takes place that never leads to an arrest, we have no idea how much of that exists. (It’s a secret, shhhhhh.)
But, a look at the DA reports each week confirm that hundreds of criminal prosecutions a month are being performed.
The revolving door of justice is swinging wildly as well. The dinky, decrepit Pahrump jail can only handle so much, and the costs of sending prisoners to Tonopah is growing by the week with higher fuel prices. That’s the reason for this new jail — another $17 million thrown at criminal justice. It’s hoped the jail will pay for itself someday by selling bed space to outside agencies. The fact is, Nye County can, and likely will, fill those beds before it ever realizes one centavo from an outside agency. And then all that will be left is a bigger jail, filled to capacity, with higher utility and food bills to go with it.
It’s a revenue plan every county jail inmate can embrace — because it will likely lead to their early release for lack of funds.
It’s not just jailing these criminals (see page that costs money. This thing called the Constitution requires that criminal defendants be given a taxpayer-funded defense in court. The county already pays $550,000 annually for a public defender’s office. But the revolving door of justice keeps sending the same people back so often that the courts are forced to hire conflict attorneys. That cost is expected to go up to $700,000 next year, and that’s above what’s already being paid for indigent legal services.
Do you realize how many old modular buildings the county could get its friends at Pac-Van to renovate with that money? At least one every three years!
It’s not just beautifully reconstructed modular buildings that get sacrificed when law and order starts eating a bigger and bigger portion of your shrinking budget, everything else gets nicked too. Employees get furlough days, programs that actually help needy people (jails are historically bad at helping people) get cut, politicians scramble to trim any other fat than the wide load being carried by cops and courts — lest their next political opponent paint them with a pink paintbrush.
Of course, a tax hike targeting these increased law and order costs would probably help. But taxes! “Oh no, not taxes! That’s anathema. That’s California! This is Nevada, you socialist!” or so the script goes.
Pahrump’s favored brand of political rhetoric includes the phrase “no new taxes.” These guys would rather cut off a pinky finger than raise any taxes (they’ll just charge a parcel fee instead) — the dim-witted “no taxes ever” crowd will still be chanting their moronic slogans when the courts crumble and the streets turn into chaos.
The budget shortfall is a serious problem for the county and it does go right to the rising costs of policing this community. The cost overruns at NCSO and the rising cost of indigent defense raise serious questions about whether more money should be spent on policing or whether the money being spent is being done so properly. Obviously, some believe it is being misspent, hence the “we’ll put YOU in the new jail” threat from the district attorney.
Perhaps someone should just say it — the criminal justice system in Nye County is not working as well as it should. Its costs are outweighing its benefits. Nye County isn’t alone — struggling communities across the country face the same ordeal, some worse, some better. That should offer little comfort still.
Criminals aren’t being punished in a way that is deterring crime, certainly, and those in charge of the day-to-day operations are either willfully not fulfilling their obligations to the community or are simply unable to do the job.
We could go on and on about what those obligations are, about policing styles and funding mechanisms available to the public. The fact is that crime and punishment isn’t just about police and judges and lawyers. It involves a complex arrangement of social institutions that must act in concert to keep crime under control and costs in check. It’s a formula that combines a few key ingredients — parents need to take care of their children, schools need to teach them, politicians should support job creation and small business development, and cops and courts should protect everybody’s person and property in the most economically feasible manner possible.
Unfortunately for everybody, too many parents don’t care, schools have funding problems of their own, the job creators are nowhere to be found and the cops and courts are overwhelmed, they are merely fingers in a dike.
The budget debate going on now should be a real wake-up call for us all, because this financial situation isn’t bound to turn around overnight. And if the sheriff and county leaders are expecting the new jail to bail them out of this, they might have better luck at a Nugget craps table.