Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jail Realignment: Action Will Cause Reaction

Ignoring the problem or giving it to someone else doesn’t mean it has gone away….that is the lesson that Governor Brown needs to learn when it comes to jail populations and the criminal justice system in California.  Recently it was reported that crime in Sacramento is up 7% since January of this year.  What is so compelling about this stat is that it comes at the tail end of 5 straight years of declines in crime.  So what is the cause of this increase?  According to a poll being conducted on the Sacramento Bee’s website, 81% of respondents say the cause is a combination of cuts in law enforcement, less supervision of people on parole, release of more parolees into the community and cuts in the juvenile court system.  Regardless of which single reason or combinations of reasons are thought to be the cause, it is hard to deny the negative impact that the Governor’s “Jail Realignment” has had on local communities.  Sacramento is just one of many counties and cities that have reported significant increases in local crime numbers.  Cities like Antioch, San Jose and Vallejo are all reporting increases in both non-violent and violent crimes.  Recently the San Mateo County Times reported that ALL Bay Area cities have seen double digit increases in crime (specifically home robberies) in 2012 (Palo Alto leads the way with a 63% increase). 

What the Governor hasn’t figured out is that cutting costs, slashing budgets and releasing inmates is not the solution to jail overcrowding.  It is, however, the cause of increased crime and lack of respect for law enforcement.  If a criminal knows they won’t be punished, then what is the incentive for them to stop?  Whether the crime is classified as violent or non-violent, criminals will care less and less about the law and more and more about who their next crime victim is.  So what is the answer?  Is it bigger government in Sacramento? Is it bigger government in your local communities?  Or shall we look to the private sector to do what they do best, which is come up with efficient, cost effective solutions that produce results?  As the Chief Executive Officer of the nation’s largest family of bail bond insurance companies, I think there is a lot that both state and local governments can learn from the bail industry if they were only to ask.  But since they haven’t asked and to date have been reluctant to include us in the conversations, here are some things that I think the Governor and local community leaders should think about.  And the first thing on the list is an easy one.

  • Tap into the knowledge and experience of the commercial bail industry - Bail bond agents have been a vital part of California’s criminal justice system for over 60 years.  Bail agents understand how to supervise and ensure appearance of those released pretrial. Leverage this knowledge and transfer it to managing populations post-conviction.

  • Better understand the pretrial populations that make up jails to determine the best solution – without knowing who is in jail and why they are there you can’t solve the problem.  Just releasing any and every one that falls into a “non, non, non” category, is not an effective way to manage populations. As the evidence is showing, even non-violent offenders create crime victims, and releasing them is putting public safety at significant risk.

  • Assess bail amounts and bond schedules - If jails are crowded because bail amounts are too high, then look at lowering bail schedules…once again, tap into knowledge and experience of the bail industry.

These are just a few simple things state and local governments could do to not only come up with a better long term solution to these challenges, but also a short term one that creates both accountability amongst those accused of committing crimes and a level of public safety that we are all confident in.  What do you think?

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