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High court triggers big crime wave

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POSTED December 17, 2013 2:19 a.m.

Car stolen? You might be able to thank Justice Anthony Kennedy.

House burglarized? Kudos could go to Justice Elena Kragan.

Auto burglarized? Sending a thank-you note to Justice Sonia Sotomayer might be appropriate.

Victim of shoplifting? Perhaps a pat on the back for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in order.

Bicycle stolen? Justice Stephen Breyer might deserve partial credit.

They are the justices that constituted the U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion that led to a 7.8 percent surge in California property crime. The 5-4 decision ordering California to release 33,000 convicted felons early because the state’s prisons didn’t give each inmate enough personal space led to the 7.8 percent spike in 2011-2012. Contrast that to the rest of the nation that saw a collective decline in property crimes of 0.9 percent during the same time frame.

Even more stressing is the vehicle theft rate. It jumped 14.2 percent in 2011-2012 after years of steady declines. That translates into 24,000 more car thefts a year. If each vehicle loss averaged $10,000, auto theft alone constitutes a whopping $240 million increase in property losses for Californians. That’s $13,333 per inmate released. The Legislative Analyst’s Office says it costs $47,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate. Toss in the rest of the cost of crime released felons are committing and the price for police and the legal system to go after them and an argument can be made it is still cheaper to keep them in prison.

The crime rate figures were dredged from statistics by the highly respected Public Policy Institute of California. The non-partisan think tank makes no bones about it. There is a direct tie between the spike in property crime in California and the early release of inmates.

The 7.8 percent jump is actually the good news.

The bad news is that it is going to go even higher.

The 7.8 percent rise is tied to the release of 18,000 non-violent felons. There are upwards of 15,000 more that still have to be released to comply with the court order. The institute predicts another 7 to 12 percent rise in property crime when all of the felons are released.

We’re told not to worry, by the way, about an increase in murder, rape, and brutal attacks in the commission of armed robberies and such. The PPIC reported only a 3.4 percent increase in violent crime from 2011-12. The report “presumes” there is no clear connection since most of the criminals released early were supposed to have been non-violent.

Forget the fact there have been a number of “violent” felons inadvertently released early who have been documented to have committed rape. State officials caught between a rock and a hard place simply note that when you’re releasing that many felons ahead of the scheduled release date that quickly there are bound to be a few errors made. Tell that to the latest rape victims.

Besides the fact that most criminals convicted of violent crimes such as murder, brutal beatings and rape start out with penny ante stuff in the felony world and work their way up, there is the proverbial elephant in the room.

Here’s the real big problem on the horizon: In order to get down to the court-mandated numbers the state will now have to release a  good chunk of felons that have been convicted of violent crimes.

It’s nice to think that everyone has turned over a new leaf, but the odds are strong that in a few years time there will be a direct correlation between an increase in violent crimes and the early massive release of felons.

Justice Antonia Scalia in his dissent referred to the 5-4 majority decision as “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by the court in our Nation’s history.” Scalia’s argument was based on concern about the separation of powers. He argued judges were never meant to or are they suited to make “very broad empirical predictions necessarily based on large part upon policy reviews” that are basically reserved for the legislative and executive branches and not the judicial branch.

There are at least 18,000 felons on the streets that would not be if it weren’t for the high court’s edict. And this is in California, not Texas, where we don’t exactly throw the book at people who commit egregious acts against others.

The court essentially determined it wasn’t their problem if their decision sparked a crime spree that violated one of the most basic rights we should enjoy — the right to be secure in our person and property.

In a very real sense the government of which the judicial system is a part of has essentially said the rights of those convicted of felons are greater than those of law abiding citizens.

Perhaps the justices might want to see the condition that many poor and hardworking farm workers live in as well as the medical care that they have access to when compared to felons in “overcrowded” state prisons. Do felons in prison worry where their next meal is coming from like the children of a single mom or even two parents who are struggling to earn enough money through legal means to support their families?

Cut through the legal rhetoric and it is abundantly clear: A high court decision sparked California’s latest crime wave.



This column is the opinion of executive 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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