|It is easy to place blame on others when things go sideways at any point within the criminal justice system|
There have been lots of discussions in the county about how we can safely lower our jail's population to save taxpayer dollars, while simultaneously maintaining public safety as the highest priority.
I spoke with a panel of experts on the subject last month, and the video of that meeting is here.
I spoke honestly and candidly with the ACLU about this topic, and that video is here.
We have many individuals that linger in our jail for non-violent, low-level crimes, and we ought to be able to find a way to put such inmates on ankle monitors or pre-trial release to free up jail space for the truly violent offenders in our community.
But this requires teamwork. More importantly, this will require that each entity that participates in this process works together---no chest beating, no grandstanding, and most importantly--no playing the blame game.
What is the blame game?
The blame game goes like this. The police arrest the suspect, suspect is charged by the State Attorney and defended by the Public Defender. Depending upon the severity of the crime, the suspect is either taken immediately to jail, released on his/her own recognizance, or the case is settled or not prosecuted by the State Attorney when it is brought before the judge.
The judges are the linchpin in the process--and they have the toughest job so far as I can tell. The decisions they make can have life and death consequences---and Heaven forbid a judge gives a break to a seemingly non-violent offender who then while on pre-trial release re-offends with violence. At this point it becomes "Open-Season" on such judges, and everyone piles on and the judges cannot respond due to ethics rules.
Recently in San Francisco, a young offender, with a prior felony arrest and conviction, was released just a week after being re-arrested for illegally possessing a weapon. The judge in this case followed a locally developed protocol, but unfortunately she was given a faulty score which allowed this young man to go free. Tragically, within a week this man committed a murder in conjunction with a botched robbery. Now everyone in that case is in hiding and the public and the media want that judge's head on a stick.
Judges locally have been lambasted in the press for attempting to show compassion to offenders who show potential for turning their lives around.
Negative statements have publicly been made about judges that downward depart from State Attorney recommended sentences.
So, it seems that when there is no upside, no chance for rebutting inaccurate, false information about a case by judges when a jail release goes wrong--what chance do we really have to work with Judges that become the community's pinatas when a seeminly non-violent jail releasee commits a violent crime?
Let's face it: It is easy for the Police to beat their collective chests and say "We arrested them multiple times--and the judges release them!" (While simultaneously not mentioning that often the arrest and concomitant evidence becomes legally inadmissible due to procedural errors by such arresting officers)
It's easy for the State Attorney to "Throw the book at poor criminals" because that is popular and makes for spectacular, newsworthy press conferences when a harsh sentence is imposed. (What is not discussed is the large number of cases the SA does not prosecute for a variety of reasons. Another thing not to be discussed or even mentioned are the cases not pursued by the SA for various "reasons" some of which cases focus on popular, locally elected politicians. Even in cases where evidence of malfeasance in office is delivered on a silver platter--sometimes these cases never get properly investigated--they just get pushed aside--they simply do not make for good optics and nifty press conferences.....)
It's easy to say the public defenders are overwhelmed and understaffed and are doing the best they can.
So there are a lot of things that are easy. Playing the "Blame Game" is easy. It is the status quo.
So how can we fix that?--we will discuss this in part II.