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Criminals benefit from Sacramento’s theft of local money

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POSTED September 24, 2009 1:37 a.m.
Catch and release.

It is a game with expensive and potentially deadly consequences that law enforcement is forced to play with criminals in San Joaquin County.

The following is an example of a catch and release among hundreds that occur each month in Manteca.

Police seized 2.5 pounds of marijuana buds with a street value of $5,000, 15.1 ounces of crystal meth with a street value of $1,200, along with drug pipes, two scales, and $750 in cash.  Three men were arrested including one that was charged with possessing meth and pot for sale. They were booked into Manteca city jail – which is just a temporary holding facility - and then released on citation. They appear in court Oct. 30. If they are like many others playing catch and release they will commit more crimes before their Oct, 30 court date.  The unlucky ones, though, get arrested for subsequent offenses much like the guy who was arrested for auto theft twice in Manteca while awaiting trial on an arrest for - you guessed it – auto theft.

There were 81 arrests by various law enforcement agencies in San Joaquin County on Tuesday that involved booking suspects at the county jail. The jail has a rated capacity of 1,411 inmates. Thanks to wiggle room created by changing operations of the jail and still comply to court-mandates standards the county jail can handle 1,528 inmates at a time.

Based on Tuesday’s bookings - which is a slow weekday – a completely empty jail could be filled in less than 19 days.

San Joaquin County judges have devised a criteria pattern for who is held and who is released when the jail reaches capacity. They keep the most violent criminals off the street. Often it means habitual drug dealers, auto thieves, serial burglars, and serial vehicle thieves are just booked and released. It also means someone sentenced to a year in jail could end up serving just over two months.

San Joaquin County has one of the lowest jail cell ratios per 1,000 residents among California counties with 1,333 rated beds. The jail averages 1,566 inmates a day plus 1,000 on alternate work programs or home detention who — if approved for such an option — pick up the cost themselves in exchange for the privilege of not serving time behind bars.

San Joaquin County has received preliminary approval to secure state funds made possible by Assembly Bill 900 to expand the jail. The first phase — which the county has the matching funds for — will add 1,280 beds and cost $116 million. The second phase — if the county can match that grant as well— would cost $59.6 million —and bring jail capacity up to 2,933 beds by adding 320 more beds. By the year 2018, SJ County may end up tripling the number of beds they now have at the jail.

And that could take the county off the court-mandated cap and reduce crime.

It will cost $80 million in 2018 to run an expanded jail that could — pushing the limit— house 3,075 inmates. The two additional phases will add $47.5 million to that cost. Coming up with that additional money is now the challenge for the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

Two of the options the county is considering is a sales tax coming in at little more than a half cent per $1 or an annual parcel tax of at least $222. Some type of funding mechanism will be put before voters in the coming years since the county’s ability to staff the jail has been extremely crippled by the California Legislature’s endless stalking of local revenue sources.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors should proceed with one or the other but only after they do one other thing. They need to lead a charge among counties and cities to put a measure on the state ballot that absolutely bans any future hijacking of local revenue sources and requires the state to cease diverting revenue fund sources the state started taking since 2006 even though they have been taking local money off and on since 1991. Then San Joaquin County should proceed with its own ballot measure to fund the jail.

Ultimately the people to blame for catch and release are the two-faced politicians we’ve elected from both parties to represent us in Sacramento who pander to special interest groups, siphon money away from basic public services to fund pet projects for those who shower them with campaign funds, and who tell the people who elected them that it is either the courts’ fault or others in Sacramento that the state is devastating local services.

Our inability to have safer communities is the direct result of three decades of ineptness and moral corruption in Sacramento.
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