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State helps make SJ County haven for criminals & unscrupulous folks

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POSTED December 16, 2012 9:05 p.m.

Manteca is receiving $86,250 from Sacramento to fight crime.

Actually, that’s not true. The city is really receiving the money to re-arrest career criminals the state is releasing en masse from prison in order to comply with a federal order to reduce overcrowding.

State leaders - after spending 18 months telling local law enforcement that releasing 32,000 non-felons from prison years ahead of schedule won’t impact crime - have now all but conceded a big uptick in car thefts, residential burglaries and other crimes in the Central Valley can be attributed to emptying cells.

It gets better - at least for the criminals. When the felons are re-arrested within months of being released for repeating crimes that sent them to prison in the first place, they won’t be going back. Instead they will be going to county jail.

One little problem: Many county jails - like the one in San Joaquin County - are already overcrowded and are under state mandates to cap their population.

This means those convicted of crimes that no longer qualify for a prison term will be taking space usually reserved in jails for those sentenced for lower level transgressions.

Right now, a person convicted of a driving under the influence charge with one prior DUI is sentenced to a year in jail in San Joaquin County but only serves 20 days.

Once jail space is taken over by former state prisoners who are re-arrested and sentenced for crimes that once would have sent them back to prison, someone convicted of their second  DUI probably won’t even serve a day in jail.

It sounds crazy, but it is sane in comparison to other aspects of the criminal justice system.

Take how the state funds courts.

San Joaquin County has 696,000 residents and 29 Superior Court judges. San Francisco has 812,000 residents and 50 Superior Court judges. There’s a 16 percent population difference between the two counties but the California Legislature has decided to provide San Francisco state funding for 72 percent more judges and support staff.

For an added irony, there are no state prisons in San Francisco County. So when judges sentence felons to prison they go elsewhere, such as Deuel Vocational Institute here in San Joaquin County. And given  how often families of convicted felons move to be near them, it creates more problems in San Joaquin County. That’s because spouses of prisoners typically have issues with staying fully employed. That means counties with prisons get to have their safety net stretched even further.

For all the talk about making sure convicted criminals are given a fair shake, justice is elusive for many law-abiding citizens even when it doesn’t involve crimes requiring the intervention  of law enforcement.

Earlier this year, San Joaquin County stopped hearing small claim cases. You can still file your claim but you will be told you won’t get a hearing date until such time as the state restores court funding that has been cut back 30 percent since 2010. In other words, there won’t be any hearing date for your case for at least four years.

You can always go the more expensive route and file in Superior Court. But there’s a backlog there, too. Meaning two years might be the soonest your case can be heard.

San Joaquin County - thanks to the state - is turning into a haven for criminals as well as unscrupulous individuals.

 

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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