October 13th, 2011
03:24 PM ET

Using inmate firefighters, repealing abuse laws: How some areas battle budget woes

A spat over the cost of prosecuting domestic abuse cases has led to Topeka, Kansas, repealing its domestic abuse ordinance.

The Shawnee County district attorney said he wouldn't be able to prosecute the cases anymore because of budget cuts. That meant the responsibility fell on the city of Topeka - money officials there said they didn't have either. The Topeka City Council then repealed the domestic abuse ordinance.

That sent people in the Kansas capital, and others elsewhere across the nation, into a frenzied debate about whether these cases should be allowed to fall by the wayside.

The outrage grew after news came out that 30 suspects accused of domestic abuse had not been prosecuted because of the budget standoff that began a month ago.

District Attorney Chad Taylor told CNN his office is now forced to handle the domestic battery cases, as a measure of public safety, despite not having the funds to do so.

Of course, it isn't the first time cities and states have had to grapple with tough decisions on what kind of programs and services are cut because of a lack of money. But this case, and the fierce reaction to it, made us think about the current state of budget issues across the country and exactly what other creative measures governments were taking to make up for slashed budgets.

Here’s a glance at how some are dealing with the problems:

Having low-level inmates help fight fires?

One Georgia county’s proposed solution to its budget woes is an inmate firefighter program, according to The Florida-Times Union.

In Camden County, the program, which would be available only to a specific, select group of prisoners, would save an estimated $500,000, officials told the paper. The inmates would fight fires alongside regular firefighters, according to the newspaper. That’s been an issue of contention, though some officials said the state and other counties already had a successful similar program in place, the paper said.

Read more about the debate here.

Unsupervised parole for released inmates?

In Seattle, some unsupervised parole could be a possibility, one that a Washington Department of Corrections official has called “devastating,” according to The Seattle Times.

“Under one proposal, roughly 12,000 of the 17,000 felons now supervised in the state's version of parole would be unsupervised upon release from prison,” the paper wrote.  The article noted that some of those who are released would have serious felonies under their belt, including murder. There are other proposals under consideration, including early release of some prisoners as well as an increase in inmates' health-care co-pays.

Read more here.

Want a divorce in San Francisco? Cuts may make it take twice as long

Budget cuts have been curtailing courts’ ability to operate for years, making them reduce operating hours, increase fees and prolong adjudication. In 2009, an Ohio judge told The Columbus Dispatch that his municipal court temporarily had to stop accepting new cases because it was about to run out of paper.

This year in California - one of 40 states to have slashed their court funding last year, according to the American Bar Association - the San Francisco Superior Court’s presiding judge said she expects already-long waiting times to try cases to get even longer. Uncontested divorces may soon take a year to resolve, up from the current six-month wait, Judge Katherine Feinstein told The Economist. A typical lawsuit may soon take five years to go to trial, up from two years, she said.

San Francisco also is closing its Parole Re-entry Court, a pilot program designed to keep serious offenders out of prison, and its Probation Alternatives Court, which gave offenders rehabilitation services instead of prison time, according to The New York Times. The programs had been successful: Only 12% of the first program’s parolees had ever been returned to prison, and none of the latter's defendants went to prison, the Times reported.

Read more at The Economist and The New York Times.

Washington state cancels presidential primary

Washington state voters who might wish to help the GOP choose its presidential contender at the ballot box next year are out of luck.

Facing a $5 billion state budget gap, Washington officials chose to save $10 million by canceling the state’s nonbinding 2012 presidential primary. The state’s Democratic and Republican parties will now rely solely on their own precinct caucuses and state conventions.

Because the primary was nonbinding, state parties effectively chose which candidates to support through the caucus/convention system anyway.  But the state’s top election officer, Secretary of State Sam Reed, said he preferred primaries because they allow a greater number of people to weigh in. In 2008, for example, less than 100,000 people attended the state’s caucuses, while 1.4 million people voted in the presidential primary, Reed’s office said.

Read more at the secretary of state’s website.

Cutting state funeral service aid; bodies pile up at county level

Some counties in Kansas are having to pay for the cremation of unclaimed bodies after the state ended funding for a program that helped pay for the funerals of those too poor to pay for it themselves, according to The Topeka Capitol-Journal.

The program gave $550 to those who qualified, but since the $520,000 budget was slashed by the state last year, now the cost is being passed down to the county level, where unclaimed bodies are piling up, according to the paper. And if nobody claims the body, the county has to pay for cremation, the paper said.

Read more here.

For other interesting ways that governments have tried to cut their budgets, take a look at CNNMoney.com’s gallery of last year’s quirkiest cut programs.

soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. Sabrina

    The County was about to run out of paper? Why not go paper-less and put everything on a computer.....simple solution....the clients would have a flash-drive at their expense with the cases on them....and the attorneys as well...the courts could store all their data on their server....

    October 14, 2011 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Jose Wan Sekiavich

      Why waste money on a freak show anyway? Sounds like they made the right decision.

      October 14, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. chris

    Wait.. what??? Inmates get health care?

    October 14, 2011 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      I know, right? We should brick people who steal loaves of bread in walls and wait for them to die like they used to do in the middle ages.

      October 14, 2011 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Were going to need a lot of bricks.

      October 14, 2011 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Melissa

      Inmates live better than most of the people in this country. Tennis courts, computers, games like playstation, three full square healthy meals a day, exercise equipment, full health care coverage... some prisons even have swimming pools and on site jobs where they get the money they made when they leave to start over. And its all provided FOR them. The only thing they can't do is leave. I'm surprised you haven't seen and heard about this before. Its been all over the news for years. They get treated better than well behaved citizens that pay taxes do.

      October 14, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      They get treated like that because of the bleeding hearts that think prisoners have rights too. They think they should also be treated like real citizens. I say put them to work. If they want to eat they can grow their own food. No leisure time only hard work.

      October 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Someone who knows

      Don't get your panties in a bunch. It's not the type of health care you would WANT. Most of the time you're accuse of just wanting pills, so you don't get treated. Knew a woman who had a stroke because of the "you just want pills" excuse. Most of the doctors that work in federal prison are working off huge fines or are avoiding prison themselves by working in the Dr position. At FPC Bryan, TX, the Dr. there actually made a woman miscarry because you did a pap smear on her and nicked her womb. This is an on-going thing with federal prisons so I know the state prison are probably worse. So take what this article says with a grain of salt as the benefits aren't what they are appear to be on paper.

      October 14, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland Tony

      You were referring to Federal Minimum Security prisons I hope. Otherwise you are very ignorant about the US prison system. All prisoners are able to get emergency treatment for say a broken arm etc...tooth iinnfected? Out it comes..no replacement...Got a yeast infection ...What's that? And by the way find me a swimming pool at Riker's Island or LA's county jail. Oh they got health spas too....a dirt lot with some cement basketball courts surrounded by guys with guns. If you really like wearing pink underwear and sleeping outside in 100 degree weather visit Phoenix lockups. Now that's just min.. security ...visit the really bad boys in a supemax facility where the bad guys see sunlight for an hour a day ...rest of the day they are locked in their suite by themselves. Try it ....it'll be fun?

      October 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hiroya Kusano

      Melissa: You make prisons out as "bastions of luxury" when that is NOT true at all!

      Even if you can find maybe one or two federal prisons with those luxuries, those are reserved for nonviolent/white collar criminals.

      Look at the "Grits for Breakfast" blog or look at articles about the Beto Prison Unit or Polunsky Prison Unit. and get back to me

      October 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rosslaw

    Police should hand the abused spouse, obviously the wife in 99% of the cases, an old, simple to operate .38 Police Special revolver, four inch barrel, with instructions to fire until empty the next time the ol' man wants to use her for a punching bag. We're talking guns, summary execution, all the values that make this country great.

    October 14, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  4. john/kc

    Why do we send troops half way around the world when we cannot defend the citizens of the USA at home? Cut defense spending 50% and put that money into the USA programs. We are truly headed to be a 3rd world country. If police can't defend you, then it is up to yourself. As Herman Cain would put it, if you let your husband beat you up, then it is your fault. If you let some idiot take advantage of you, and you let him or her get away with it, then it is your fault. Don't expect the law to back you up. If you are caught out without your weapon by a criminal, it is your fault!

    October 14, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. hippediva

    Odd that, of all the things that could be done to save money, this jagoff decides that declaring war on women and children is ok. Like Mississippi, intent on giving fetii rights above those of living females. US Sharia? You betcha!

    October 14, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Annie, Atlanta

      I agree. What is it with the war on women in this country, lead by the Republicans. This is getting scary. What, every hundred years or so, give or take, we have to go to battle for the same rights over and over again. Good grief!

      October 14, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • dale

      Tea Party: "Domestic violence laws are just a government intrusion into our wife beating!"

      October 14, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  6. s kel

    Dan your not alone. A coworker of mine was getting abused by his wife, and as you he never filed it in court for what he percived as fear of being riddiculed and being ashamed of a man filing spouce abuse charges against his wife. We tried to get him to file, but like you he filed for divoice. He wanted nothing ,she recived nothing .....so hes happy. But PEOPLE SPOUSE ABUSE AGAINST MEN BY THEIR WIFES IN THIS COUNTRY DOES EXIST.

    October 14, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. rtg

    Abusers sometimes kill their wives or children, so that's a priority. If they want to cut the budget, they need to start with the high paid officials, not domestic abuse victims. They could at least cut where it won't end up killing innocent people. They'll lose anyway if they stop prosecuting domestic abuse, when they have to pay out the huge settlements for the lawsuits that are filed for not protecting the victims. Perhaps they need a new prosecutor that knows how to budget. I'm guessing this guy has no intention of taking a pay cut, when it's so easy to just endanger innocents instead.

    October 14, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  8. Web

    Not prosecuting domestic violence bothers me a lot, no matter where it is done. No money for domestic violence. But some guy can beat the crap out of a woman who is willing to file charges, and he gets a free walk to do it again to her or someone else, maybe even kill the next time. I bet the guy caught with a joint will be prosecuted! Of course they have money for that! What is wrong with this picture? Seems states and various counties are looking at ways to prosecute for an easy buck. Red light cameras are one example, no cop needed, just a camera and a stamp to get money. Sad what the country is slowly becoming.

    October 14, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. Henry Miller

    Wouldn't do, of course, to quit wasting money busting people for pot, and any other idiotic thing they do to themselves, but which hurts no one else.

    October 14, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mintukumar


    It's a nice article it will help my research.


    October 14, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kansan

    I can see their point to a certain point. In the majority of these cases, the woman stays with the abuser anyway. So why keep shelling out money for their kind of crap. But there are women out there who seriously need their cases heard. Maybe if they classify it as assault, they can do something. IDK..

    October 14, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mintukumar

    It’s a nice article we can gather lot of experience from here.

    October 15, 2011 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dreamer96

    Remember the woman that was married to a wife beater, child abuser, and she lit the bed on fire with her husband passed out drunk on it one night after a beating of her and the kids and left the house, Only problem is it would cause a lot of houses to get burned down...There is a better way...The neigborhood should start to work together one this, a group can always stop one person, if they try...their are too many people out there now with cell phones that can take pictures, record sounds, record live video, can collect evidence to have this going on anymore...where are the churches and their members? You know it can be stopped by the people around them...

    October 15, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kamarasune

    Hows that NAFTA free trade instead of fair trade tasting? You can thank the sellouts that bent over for the AIPAC lobby.

    October 17, 2011 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5