Thursday, July 15, 2004


Justice is something very difficult to understand with precision, since it is situated along a continuum that becomes finite only when it reaches Divine Justice. On the other hand, injustices are much easier to identify and, in our countries, prisons themselves represent one of the greatest injustices. In terms of the use of scarce resources, as an economist I am convinced that justice would today be much better served by improving prisons than by investing in Supreme Courts.

I am not advocating, nor do I believe in, imported solutions. Moreover, if we were to respect individual rights defined as extravagantly as possible, for example, by guaranteeing in Venezuela access to justice similar to that O.J. Simpson had access to a few years ago in the United States, this would, because of the cost involved, be an affront to our human rights, collectively.

Nonetheless, I believe in good examples, and I am sure that if prison franchises could be established in our countries we would all reap the benefits, as we are shamed into reforms.

When we read that one factor making it particularly difficult for Schwarzenegger, the new Governor of California, to balance his state’s budget is the 28,500 dollars he has to spend each year on each of his 162,000 prisoners and that one of his options would be to use local private prison services, which would allow him to cut the cost to 17,000 dollars per prisoner per year, we see an opportunity.

If California wants to save even more, it could do so by letting our countries offer prison services for some of its prisoners. Companies could build and operate prisons and would have to apply ISO 9000-type quality certifications. This would probably generate a set of global good prison practices that would benefit everyone. Nowadays, rapid transport and facilities such as videoconferences should make such proposals much more feasible. All that’s lacking is the will to carry them out.

Since some people trace the origin of the violent maras (gangs) of Central America to Los Angeles, and since crime is to some degree attributed to the violence in films, perhaps California, its Governor, and even Hollywood all have a special motivation to welcome an initiative such as this one to help us help them.

Besides, Schwarzenegger’s experience in the movies alone, which ranges from subduing criminals by force to teaching kindergarten, would seem to fit the ideal resume for a real super prison keeper.

P.S. I just read in the press that Schwarzenegger refers to his experience in Kindergarten Cop as useful to handle the legislative branch in California… OK perhaps for that too.

Translated from El Universal, Venezuela, July 15, 2004