Note to wannabe-Governor Whitman

The way to spend less money on prisons is to have fewer prisoners.

Yes, California prisons are more expensive than they need to be. Good luck with reducing costs. Shipping prisoners to out-of-state for-profit prison firms is a good way of increasing your flow of campaign contributions, but generally not a good way of saving money: the for-profits are experts at “creaming” low-cost inmates while charging rates based on average cost, and “pro-business” Governors aren’t very good at driving hard bargains.

If you want to spend less money on prisons, you need to have fewer prisoners. That can be done – while also reducing crime – by doing a better job at enforcing the conditions of probation and parole.

Footnote In a previous post, I referred to Whitman as a “failed corporate bureaucrat.” That was unfair; I was thinking of Carly Fiorina. (Have you noticed that all rich Republican women politicians look alike?) I’m told that Whitman was a better-than-competent executive at eBay.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

6 thoughts on “Note to wannabe-Governor Whitman”

  1. There was at least one other idea mentioned by Whitman in that interview.

    I'd be careful with the joking sexism, if I were you. (I wouldn't engage in it at all, for myself.)

    I thought the new consensus was that Fiorina was in fact a success at HP. See, e.g., Joe Nocera's article at the

  2. "Better-than-competent" executive, maybe (translates as "excellent ass-kisser to the board" in my dictionary), but PayPal and eBay have the absolute worst customer "service", with no accountability and no responsiveness. Her comments on that boil down to, "we don't have to."

    Fiorina was brought in for one purpose: to ramrod the acquisition of Compaq. Resulted in laying off of >70,000 workers, and destroying the base engineering capacity of HP, a job that Mark Hurd finished.

    Neither is my pick for CEO of the decade.

  3. Whitman joined eBay when it had 30 employees, so she did more than kiss up to the Board. So it's hard to say she didn't make a ton of money for her shareholders and fellow employees.

  4. Mark,

    I'm happy to follow whatever you say on matters of criminal administration. But I think you may have contradicted yourself. A few months ago, I remember that you allowed that private prisons may be competitive with CA state prisons, because the greed and clout of the guards' union was comparable to that of the private prison executives. (You did not, I remember, think that this generalized outside of CA, which has a uniquely predatory union.) In this post, you imply that the execs are even better predators than the guards' union. Is my memory playing tricks on me? Or have the execs developed better fangs?

  5. This might be water long since under the bridge, but shouldn't the state try to maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence (which includes holding a person captive against their will)?

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