No Child Left Behind just celebrated its tenth anniversary: while educators, children and parents have generally loathed the landmark signature legislation, and while studies have shown that it has failed to improve learning despite its immense cost,  NCLB’s free-market policies – high-stakes standardized testing, and school closures for “losers” – are the undisputed status quo of school reform.    President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top places even more faith in the magical power of the free market than NCLB: student scores on standardized tests continue to close schools, to pit states against one another for funding, and soon, pit teachers against one another for jobs.  Even though the data shows that NCLB is a failure, our leaders – on both sides of the aisle – have invested too much time, money and pride in free-market reforms to admit that they have failed; and further, we’re all pretty certain that this wide scale experiment in deregulating public education will work out favorably someday (just as it did in the banking industry).

I mean, what’s the alternative to letting hedge fund managers, CEOs, billionaire philanthropists and neo-conservative economists set the course of public education?  Letting educators decide how to best educate children?   Teachers – and their fat pensions – did cause the economy to go broke in 2008, so why would we let them run the education system?

And now that we’re pretty sure that the free-market must work best for providing all public services, it’s time to expand No Child Left Behind to other public services. To fix our broken criminal justice system we should create a new NCLB – No Criminal Left Behind – which relies on the long, invisible hand of the market to toss the bad guys in jail.

The high crime rates in our urban centers, like the low-test scores in urban schools, are caused by a single factor: unions. Like teachers, police officers have too long been insulated from the forces of the free market.  Once a police officer gets into the force, and is protected by her powerful union, there is no longer a financial incentive to catch criminals, and therefore, there is no real motivation for that public employee to do her job.   Civic duty, passion for the job, and a desire to do good for others cannot be measured, tracked, and turned into bar graphs, and therefore, do not exist. Thus, in order to reduce crime, we should use the best practices of the free market to ensure we attract the highest quality officers, and guarantee that all criminals are caught, convicted, and imprisoned as quickly as possible.

We could market the plan to the public as the Crime-to-Time Pipeline.™ 

Currently, police officers are paid a flat-salary based on number of years of experience and education, which tends to privilege the status quo, keeping out our best and brightest, who do not go into police work because they have lower earning power than investment bankers. Thus, we could reform our criminal justice system by creating a merit-based pay system, to attract top policing talent, which will ensure No Criminal is Left Behind.

Instead of years of experience or education, officers could be paid by:

  • Quantity of parking tickets issued;
  • Quantity of successful arrests;
  • Quality of those arrests (homicide or rape would earn higher bonuses than simple misdemeanors, for example).

But just arresting criminals is not enough: once the criminal gets into the bureacratic government-run criminal justice monopoly, he is often stuck in the morass of red tape called “due process,” which is exceptionally costly and terribly inefficient.  Thus, NCLB should extend not just to officers, but also to the rest of the criminal justice system.

Prosecutors, for example, would be more motivated to put criminals behind bars if they were financially rewarded, just like their peers in the private sector.  Thus, city, state and federal prosecutors could be paid by:

  • Quantity of convictions;
  • Quality of convictions (celebrity prosecutions would also earn a bonus, due to increased advertising revenue).

And to ensure criminals stay behind bars, judges could also be given a merit-pay structure using a similar formula, which also would include:

  • The length of sentences
  • Recidivism/relapse rates
  • Number celebrities sent to rehab (extra bonus if the celebrity appears on the cover of People Magazine).

Under NCLB all workers in the government run criminal justice system could have their pay tied to crime rates – bonuses when it goes down, and pay cuts when it goes up, like the inverse of a stock price at a corporation. This would motivate the entire criminal justice system to be invested in leaving no criminal on the streets.

Further, if particular departments scored consistently in the worst percentile, NCLB would close poor performing police squads like poor performing schools, and reopen them with new staff and management by non-profit or for-profit charter police enterprises. Under NCLB, government, non-profit, and for-profit policing enterprises would compete for criminals and citizens; imagine different agencies rushing to respond to a mugging, and once there, the victim could then choose the best officer to meet his post-mugging needs. By turning policing into a consumer experience, with competition, choice, and accountability, we could create the best criminal justice experience for the community.

Most of all, NCLB – like its counterpart in education – would finally break-up a bloated government monopoly, and replace it with the more efficient, nimble private sector, one run by successful hedge-fund managers and philanthropic billionaires (whose interns have summarized for them a few books on criminal justice).  Deregulating criminal justice would clear the way for a new field of entrepreneurs, who could innovate and experiment with new ways to catch and incarcerate criminals efficiently and productively.  And these entrepreneurs are already out there – Xe (formerly Blackwater) could bring in a very effective, alternatively trained policing staff to serve in the communities with the highest crime rates (Police for America©); further, the for-profit prison industry is perfectly situated to take over the inefficient government imprisonment system, and find new cost-cutting measures to provide dynamic incarceration services.

NLCB, using the power of the free market, would no doubt increase the number of arrests, convictions, and decrease the number of criminals on the streets – and probably, the streets could be totally free of criminals by, say, 2023.   And if the streets aren’t free of crime, if crime rates have increased, and innocent people are convicted at higher rate than ever before, we can: (a) assume the average person has forgotten about the random date we picked after a decade; (b) if public hasn’t forgotten, claim the police unions and lazy public employees stood in the way of real reforms; (c) rebrand NCLB with the same policies under a new name, say Race To uTopia (RTTT), and continue as before, with a new date of 2037. (d) Repeat as needed until streets are free of crime.

You might laugh at the prospect of deregulating criminal justice – that Democrats, and the entrenched police unions they serve, would never allow the free market to protect and serve the public.  That’s just what the teachers thought – and look who’s laughing now!