Friday, July 29, 2011

Murguía's Silly Comment

Much is being made of Mayor Héctor Murguía's hand-washing regarding the state of the Juárez Cereso. (Asked if he could guarantee that there would not be future deaths, he said, "Only God can guarantee that, because given the conditions of the city jail, it’s almost impossible to control this type of event.”) And in one obvious sense, this is totally deserved: no one wants to hear a governing executive saying that he is powerless to address the situation in government agencies. If, for instance, Obama had said in January 2009 that the future of the American economy is in God's hands, but things don't look good, well, I don't think that would have gone over too well.

However, upon reflection, I think it's worth noting that, a) The question was silly and designed to make him look bad--why not ask, Can you promise that there will be an improvement in the quality of the local jail?, and b) His hands are rather tied. City governments have very little control over their income, so his spending is basically determined by what Murguía can get from the federal and state governments (the latter of which, in turn, is also dependent on the federal government). He can't promise to build a new jail with the snap of his fingers, or earmark $10 million toward the hiring and outfitting of a new, more competent group of prison guards. Plus, I'm assuming many if not most of the inmates at the prison were actually federal arrests, so the overflow is out of his hands in that regard, too. Finally, prisoners tend to linger in jail in large part because the federal and state court systems are both slow and overloaded--this, again, is something that Murguía has no control over.

Of course, instead of denying all control and coming off as an ineffectual chump, he should have just explained the above. Although maybe he did and it's merely not being reported.

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