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It’s a wonderful time to be a California criminal

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POSTED December 7, 2012 11:38 p.m.

The California Department of Corrections website calls it a “historic solution” to solving the problem of prisons being revolving doors for low-level criminals. It is also touted as the “cornerstone” of plans to get inmate population to 137.5 percent of design capacity by June 13, 2013 as ordered by federal courts.

If you have been unfortunate enough to have had your vehicle stolen, home burglarized or your business hit by shoplifting as the result of this “historic” and “cornerstone” solution you probably would use somewhat different adjectives.

“Insane” is a polite word that comes to mind.

Call it what you want, but the so-called “realignment legislation” will not lower costs to anyone except the state prison system. As far as recidivism is concerned, it is obvious that will no longer be a problem since those who re-offend won’t be going back to state prison. Instead they will be going to already overcrowded county jails that are under state court mandates not to exceed capacity.

In short, it is a wonderful time to be a criminal in California.

Crime - after years of being on the decline - is now showing signs of being a growth industry. That’s especially true in the Central Valley where unemployment is significantly higher.

We are told by the “experts” not to worry because the criminals that have been given a get-out-of-prison-early card aren’t committing “serious” crimes. Instead they are committing property crimes such as stealing our cars, breaking into our homes, and stealing from our stores.

We should stop whining. It’s only things that cost your heard-earned money to replace. No big deal.

The folks up in Sacramento at least have conceded that not all of the fine upstanding career criminals they’ve turned loose are returning to society on the straight and narrow path. So they are spending a few token dollars - for now - to slightly increase police manpower so they can re-arrest those who simply start committing crimes gain.

Let’s see. We reduced state costs but increased local law enforcement, court, and jail costs. And then there is an increase in property losses suffered by law-abiding citizens.

I know, I know. It’s not Sacramento’s fault. It never is. The blame goes to the federal courts.

Before you buy that line consider this: Arizona and other states have to answer to the same federal court system. So what’s the difference?

The difference is the incarceration system that Sacramento put in place. Much of it started when Jerry Brown Version 1.0 was governor. Remember prison reform? The cornerstone was conjugal visits, and more space per inmate. It all started in the 1970s, the same time collective bargaining for state employees was launched and Proposition 13 was passed due to Sacramento’s refusal for 15 years to do anything but give lip service to property tax reform. And who can forget the Peripheral Canal?

In fairness to Brown, he may have got the ball rolling but it took subsequent administrations and legislators to morph good ideas into bad reality.

Its ironic California is now saddled with correcting the result of Politicians Gone Wild over the past 30 years now that we have Jerry Brown Version 2.0 in Sacramento.

In reality, the state had no other options to meet the federal mandate in a timely manner. That doesn’t mean they can’t start working on making things better.

First and foremost, they must rethink prison housing and exactly how much space an inmate needs. If low-level criminals can now serve out their terms in county jails that have lower manpower costs and less security, maybe the state can set up regional correctional authorities run by the counties and funded by the state.

Second, identify three distinct classes of law breakers. That would be hardcore criminals that kill, rape, maim and such; habitual career criminals that deal in property crimes; and those criminals that break only drug laws and such but have no long rap sheet of stealing to support their habit or of violence.

Then deal with the three groups separately. Reserve state prisons for the hardcore and develop lower level security facilities that require less manpower and bells and whistles for the career criminals that aren’t violent. As for the pure drug offenders, outside of sending them to the State of Washington with one-way bus tickets, there needs to be an alternative to incarceration.

A better solution can’t be devised and implemented overnight. It took 30 years to get to where we are today.

Something different, though, must be done. If not we will have created a merry go-round of catch-and-release justice.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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