With the rare exception of adoptions, court cases are never filed because someone did something smart. So I think of the Judicial Service Report as a report card telling us how many folks in Indiana did something they regret last year.
The good news is that there continues to be an overall decrease in cases, continuing the downward trend since 2008, when the number of cases filed in Indiana peaked at just over 2 million. With 1,680,412 cases filed in 2011, that is a 16% decrease in the "bad decisions index" over a 4 year period.
Less is better when it comes to need for government, so this is also excellent news from a civic perspective. It means that there is apparently less need for a service that adds to the cost of living in Indiana.
Unfortunately, the decrease does not include "serious" criminal cases. Misdemeanors are down a bit, but felonies are up. That tells us that in the realm of very poor decisions, nothing has changed, And roughly the same number of people are losing a chunk of their lives followed by becoming less employable due to criminal actions.
The most significant decreases have been in infractions (speeding tickets & such) and ordinance violations (parking ticket collections), with an 8% decrease since 2008.
This infraction number is significant and good for two reasons-
- What seems to be less enforcement may be of concern from a public safety perspective, but the statistics on traffic safety indicate that we're safer on the road now than we were in 2008, so patrol officers must be doing a pretty good job of preventing the most unsafe situations, and they aren't tying up the courts and fining motorists to do it. This seems like a clear win for Hoosiers.
- From a fiscal perspective, these are the "money making" cases. By that, I mean the defendant usually ends up paying more than $100 without using any public resources to fight the case, so these cases funnel money in the public coffers without any additional need of services rendered for the agencies that collect the fees. 100,000 fewer infractions represents a reduction of ten million dollars in fine and fee revenue. Although a few budget officers are upset, this also seems like a win for the typical citizen.
I have read reports that some people are crediting diversion programs for the decrease in infractions and misdemeanors, but that explanation doesn't work, because the statistics in this report represent cases filed. Diversion only occurs after filing has already occurred, and will show up later in a higher rate of dismissals.
Two very positive statistics are found in the civil section:
- Mortgage foreclosures are down, with a 33% decrease over the 4 year period beginning in 2008, with the biggest drop of 27% occurring from 2010 to 2011.
- Civil Collections are down 30% and Small Claims are down 14% since 2008.
These may simply be a sign of less happening in the economy generally, but I take it as a positive sign that fewer people are being taken to court for their debt.
An "A" for this report card? I think so.