Monday, January 2, 2017

Pushing privatization too far

This is Joseph.

This article from the New York Times, illustrates the problems of not paying for services via taxation:
Corey Statham had $46 in his pockets when he was arrested in Ramsey County, Minn., and charged with disorderly conduct. He was released two days later, and the charges were dismissed.
But the county kept $25 of Mr. Statham’s money as a “booking fee.” It returned the remaining $21 on a debit card subject to an array of fees. In the end, it cost Mr. Statham $7.25 to withdraw what was left of his money.
The argument for the card were kind of weak:
In its appeals court brief, the county said the debit cards were provided “for the convenience of the inmates,” who might find it hard to cash a check. 
It seems unclear to me why one could not return the contents of the person's wallet unmolested.  That would avoid this problem.  Or perhaps they could look into this technology called the "cash register"/  It solves the need to cash checks very effectively.

The cards themselves were riddled with fees:
He did get a debit card for the remaining $21. But there was no practical way to extract his cash without paying some kind of fee. Among them: $1.50 a week for “maintenance” of the unwanted card, starting after 36 hours; $2.75 for using an A.T.M. to withdraw money; $3 for transferring the balance to a bank account; and $1.50 for checking the balance.
Is this the sort of card agreement you would sign?  Why would we accept the state agreeing to this on behalf of the person arrested, especially after a $25 fee?

But this shows the real paradox of trying to adopt a private sector model for law enforcement.  The person being arrested is not the customer.  The society enforcing laws like "disorderly conduct" are the customers.  We have taxes to prevent free-riding -- if we, as a society, decide that we should enforce these rules then we should all contribute to the costs of enforcement.

But charging an "arrest fee" walks a very narrow line towards extortion.  What if somebody could not pay these costs?

In the case of bad conduct there is at least a argument (a bad argument but an argument) for recovering costs.  But where is the presumption of innocence here?  Furthermore, even if there is a process to recover costs (the article was unclear on this point), why does it make sense to have a complex process to return seized property.

I think some serious thought about these decisions would be sensible.  

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