Correction Costs and Fiscal Restraint Don’t Need to Be at Odds

By Brandon Maxwell

The Founding Fathers emphasized the vital need for the rule of law in a free society. Samuel Adams wrote, “There shall be one rule of Justice for the rich and the poor; for the favorite in Court, and the Countryman at the Plough.” In a free society, rule of law means both equality and accountability before the law.

But the Founding Fathers also warned against fiscal negligence. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “The burden of debt is as destructive to freedom as subjugation by conquest.”

Oregon taxpayers would be wise to heed Franklin’s warning. According to the most recent Legislative Fiscal Office Budget Report, Oregon taxpayers are projected to spend more than $1 billion on corrections by the end of 2013. In addition, Oregon has the fifth-fastest prisoner growth rate in the nation, and the second-highest cost per prisoner, when contrasted with similar-sized states.

In a 2013 study, Cascade Policy Institute and Americans for Prosperity-Oregon found Oregon taxpayers could save between $60 and $70 million biannually simply by reducing the daily costs of inmate housing and millions more by reforming union labor costs. Rule of law is a necessary condition for a free and prosperous society, but it needn’t be bought with inefficient uses of taxpayer funds.

Brandon Maxwell is a research associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free-market think tank.

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