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May 7, 2012

 October 19, 2010

A Reform Essay


By Davin Douma

             There are many things the government is not very good at.  For example, they have a hard time keeping a budget.  They can’t keep a schedule.  They can’t keep their own size reasonable.  And they can’t tell the truth.  There are a lot of other things they don’t do well, but an exhaustive list would be exhausting.  Instead we should look at something they do very well.  Lying.  Lying is kind of a harsh and cold word.  It is not a word that they themselves use so instead we should think of their activities in this area as either propaganda or disinformation.  Disinformation sounds like the softer of the two.

            The government has three branches and each practices its own disinformation.  For those of you who slept through civics in school, the three branches of government are the legislative, the judicial, and the executive.  The legislative branch is composed of the house of representatives and the senate.  These people create laws.  Whether or not the laws are good or bad is a separate issue.  Only the legislature can create laws.

            The judicial branch of government is the courts.  The job of the courts is to insure the laws are applied fairly and evenly and that such laws do not exceed constitutional restraints.  Again, we can debate how well they do their job but we can all agree on what their job is.  The final branch of government is the executive, whose job it is to enforce the laws.  To do this the executive is divided into departments that each has an area of operations.  The department of justice is about law enforcement, and the department of energy is about energy, the department of state is about treaties, etc.  Each branch of government has its area of responsibility, and oversight of the other two branches.  In this way no one ever gets all the power and in theory the people maintain control.  In theory.

            The problem is that both the branches and departments are all competing with each other.  They compete for power which is generally determined by budget size.  Whoever has the largest budget has the most personnel, the largest infrastructure, and the most power.  To get more power you need more personnel, more infrastructure, and both of these require more money.  The money comes from the taxpayers.  That would be you and me and all the little people who don’t work for the government.

            Take the executive departments as an example of how government operates.  To get more money you have to demonstrate more need.  The greater your needs, and the more vital the service you claim to provide, the more money they can get their hands on.  This money is in turn used to hire more personnel, create more infrastructure, which in turn requires even more money to maintain.  Notice the nice little circle there.  Circles don’t have beginnings or ends.  They just keep going round and round.

            Take the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) as an example.  They have become very good at disseminating disinformation to support their growth as a governmental agency.  They tell the public and the legislature that inmates file thousands of lawsuits a year that they have to defend against.  This requires them to hire attorneys, paralegals, investigators, and secretaries to fight the good fight.  All these personnel have to be paid and they have to have a place to work.  That means we have to build them offices and provide them with desks and chairs and computers and phones and copiers.  All this infrastructure has to be built by someone and maintained by someone and that means more personnel and more money and more infrastructure.  There’s that circle again.

            The lawsuit claim is a good one.  Those dirty prisoners have to be fought and beaten.  Can’t let them get away with anything like proper medical treatment or healthy food.  The only problem is that there aren’t thousands of lawsuits being filed every year.  There is if you count all fifty states, but Oklahoma only has to fight its own prisoners.  It doesn’t defend the suits in Kansas, or Missouri, or Texas.  In fact, there are only around fifteen law suits filed by prisoners in the civil courts against the DOC at any given time.  These are law suits that are almost always settled out and usually for a few thousand dollars or less.  The rare case of a medical suit that costs millions is exceptionally rare and the result of the DOC killings it prisoners in inhumane ways.

            The state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on its defense of these lawsuits.  They spend twenty or thirty times as much money on lawsuits then what the suits actually cost them.  They get away with this huge expenditure of resources because people think the department has to defend itself against thousand of filings.  Technically, the DOC is right that all those suits get filed every year, they just don’t get filed in Oklahoma.  And here is the real rub, the DOC doesn’t actually fight the suits.  It is the state attorney general’s office that fights the suits.  They bill the taxpayers for the same costs as DOC does.  At the ice cream shop this is called a double dip.

            Another example of disinformation by the DOC is their ability to let people out of prison.  When a prisoner can be released is not determined by DOC.  The department doesn’t get to let people go just because they want to or because they are overcrowded.  A sentence has to be discharged, commuted, or paroled and DOC doesn’t have the authority to do any of the three.  So the next time you see a DOC representative on television telling you that if they don’t get their funding they will have to let the murderers and rapists out, don’t buy into it.  The state has never let murderers or rapists go because of funding problems.  They will stack murderers and rapists like cord wood in cells before that happens.

            DOC has been massively overcrowded since the mid 1980s.  All cells are double-bunked and dorms are packed well beyond capacity.  But, growth in the system is not what taxpayers have been lead to believe.  In state prisons only around twelve hundred beds have been added in the last twenty years even though the budget for prisons in the same time frame has tripled.  The number of employees DOC pays have doubled in the past twenty years even though there has been almost no growth in the number of prison beds.  There are less then five thousand in private prisons, but they represent only around sixty million in costs, not the three hundred million in funding growth over the past twenty years.  Yet every year DOC demands more money.  They actually hire people to lobby the legislature to get even more money.  Am I the only person who sees a problem with the government lobbying itself?  More personnel, more infrastructure, more money.  You better give DOC what it wants or they are going to have to let the murderers and rapists go.

copyright 1020 Davin Douma

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