State capacity weakness in developing countries is a favourite topic of this blog. An important, but less discussed, dimension of weak state capacity is that public systems run on very thin human, physical and financial resources. The scale of disproportionality would become evident if we match the time-task-effort to the available resources. And once we have such deficiencies, the other dimensions of state capacity weakness (corruption, incompetence, apathy etc) invariably follow.
And this is no less true in developed countries. From a Times story on the hell-hole that is the over-crowded St Clair Correctional Facility, one of the six maximum security facilities in Alabama,
Mr. Dunn, the corrections commissioner, points to this as support for his conviction that the root problems at St. Clair and in the Alabama prison system lie in the numbers. “I still believe that the fundamental, systemic problem is a combination of lack of staff and overcrowding,” he said... The construction of modern prisons, he said, is the important first step to making changes that will last, allowing for safer facilities and more rehabilitative programming.
Whether it is fundamental or not, I cannot disagree with the Commissioner. And he echoes correctional officials in many developing countries.
St Clair is acutely under-resourced - physical infrastructure, correctional man power etc. But St Clair is an exception to the norm of well-resourced correctional facilities in developed countries.
Instead, St Clair is the norm in many developing countries. In fact, St Clair (at least from the photos) would even be considered one of the better endowed ones in many of these countries. And despite acute resource scarcity, most often far greater than St Clair, many correctional facilities in countries like India are run no worse than St Clair.
This scenario of resource deficiency would repeat with building inspectors, bill collectors, surveyors, citizen charter counter operators, teachers, doctors, extension officers, police constables, clerks, and so on, and at all levels.
In fact, I will not hesitate to argue that under the same same resource conditions and challenges, the State in developed countries would fare far worse than those in many developing countries.