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Fighting Drugs Helped D.C. Criminal Justice Bills Soar

July 16, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The drug epidemic in part forced the District of Columbia to spend more on police, jails and courts than any state, but so did footing the bill for programs states usually pay for, city officials said Monday.

A Justice Department report issued Sunday showed the district had spent almost four times the national average on criminal and civil justice in 1988, the year a crack cocaine epidemic hit the city.

″Certainly, if you are comparing the states, you have to compare apples with apples,″ said Robert Pohlman, the city’s deputy mayor for finance. ″If you are comparing the cost of our local police force ... with a state police force, you’re comparing apples with oranges.″

The study revealed the nation’s capital, which functions as a local and a state government, spent about $859 per resident in 1988 for police protection, courts and correctional facilities. The national per capita average spending on justice activities by state and local governments that year was $218.

″That figure is so high because we have to pay for the city jail, plus the equivalent of a state correctional institution, and halfway houses,″ said corrections department spokeswoman Pat Wheeler. ″No state has to pay for all of that.″

Wheeler said the explosion of drug use has helped drive up the cost of corrections in Washington, but mandatory sentencing laws have added to the price tag.

″We have a high incarceration rate, both because the police are doing a good job arresting drug dealers and because we are seeing an increase in the number of drug offenses that require the person serve time,″ Wheeler said. ″We didn’t ask for all these people - we just lock them up.″

But there is little question the city’s budget reflects an increasing concern about stopping crime.

In fiscal 1980, the district spent $56.6 million to house the 4,707 inmates that spent time behind bars. In the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, the city is budgeting $237 million to house prisoners. On Monday, 11,487 people were behind bars.

Indeed, to avoid exceeding court-ordered population limits at the city’s prisons, inmates now are serving sentences in state and federal penitentiaries as far away as Washington state.

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