Measuring the Effect of Public-Sector Unionization on Criminal Justice Public Policy

Source: Derek Cohen and Jay Kennedy, University of Cincinnati, November 2012

From a press release:
…UC’s Kennedy and Cohen used a range of data going back as far as 15 years to test three broad impacts that popular wisdom sometimes ascribes to unions. They examined
– whether what’s called “public choice theory,” another way of saying that individual voters vote to benefit themselves, can be applied to collective bargaining units. “Public choice theory” stands in opposition to “communal will theory,” where it’s posited that individual voters opt for the good of the many or group vs. their own individual goods.
– whether unions associated with the criminal justice system engage in “competitive rent seeking,” seeking to maximize specific expenditures into the criminal justice system above and beyond a cost-recovery level in order to benefit specific unions, say a police vs. a corrections union.
– whether states with more liberal ideologies are likely to have smaller per-capita prison populations, and, alternately, whether states that are less liberal have higher incarceration rates. (The researchers are interested whether more-liberal states with stronger unions associated with the criminal justice system might not have harsher laws/sentencing requirements as a means of “guaranteeing concentrated benefits” or prosperity for unions associated with the criminal justice system.)….

…In their research, Kennedy and Cohen found that, yes, when unions associated with the criminal justice system make expenditures related to state issues, there is a broad, diffuse impact. In other words, if one union spends to support an issue benefiting functions in the criminal justice system, the state’s broad public safety sector is likely to generally benefit in the form of more funding, but not necessarily the specific union or sector that made the expenditure….Correspondingly, they found no evidence that competitive rent seeking was taking place. In other words, there is no lion’s share of the spoils (in the form of jobs) going to any specific union making expenditures on behalf of a state issue. So, in general, a specific union making ballot initiative expenditures will not see a relative increase in employment numbers one year on….

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