By Marc Debbaudt

On Tuesday evening, a lovely baby was murdered in Compton. A gunman sprayed bullets into a converted garage where Autumn Johnsonlived with her parents.  She had just turned one. When the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived, they found one of the bullets had struck Autumn in the head. Since paramedics had not yet arrived, the Deputies decided to rush Autumn themselves to a local hospital. Unfortunately, she did not survive.

This brutal and senseless killing devastated and outraged the community, and has dominated the local news.

“This has to stop! At some point in time it got to stop,” a visibly upset Cornell Patton, who is Autumn’s great-uncle, told the Los Angeles Times. “If black lives matter, then let’s make it matter then.”

Mr. Patton’s heart-wrenching plea should be a call to action for celebrity-activists everywhere. After all, what life matters more than an innocent child? But so far we have heard nothing from the glitterati. Not one word.

As I wrote in a recent post, Beyoncé’s Super Bowl activism was misguided, celebrities have built-in bully pulpits that are always at their disposal to promote worthy causes. We just wish they would raise their voice and wield their clout in situations such as this. Where are they? Why aren’t they speaking out against the routine slaughter that is ripping apart our communities? Why aren’t they in the forefront of leading a movement of peace or an effort to end senseless violence? Instead of mindless shout-outs, why don’t they venture into violence-plagued neighborhoods and quietly or not-so-quietly contribute a few bucks for youth programs that could, just maybe, steer a kid or two away from the gang life?

But we’re not holding our breath. Protesting police shootings is armchair activism that requires little effort and lends itself to catchy slogans. It stirs up discontentment and solves no problems. It can be divisive and disruptive. No one, on the other hand, gets lost in a political controversy or is ever criticized for a sincere effort to reduce violence, improve communities or help the youth. Addressing the ingrained violence that is killing our children is a much more daunting challenge. It requires tough, unglamorous work – and is unlikely to sell many records or boost anyone’s following on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.  He can be contacted at mdebbaudt@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

 

By Marc Debbaudt

Celebrities, by the very nature of the attention they attract, have built-in bully pulpits. They most often use them to shed light on honorable causes encompassing everything from disease and world hunger to animal rights and anti-bullying campaigns.

At times, however, their activism is misguided. A case in point is singer Beyoncé Knowles’ controversial routine during Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show as detailed by CBS News.

Specifically, Ms. Knowles paid tribute to the violent Black Panther Party and Mario Woods, a man recently released from state prison, on parole for armed robbery, who used a knife to slash a random innocent person.  As detailed in a piece by George Hofstetter, President of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the heavily bleeding victim called the police, who tracked Mr. Woods to a nearby street, where he refused to drop the knife, proclaiming to officers “You better squeeze that ****and kill me.”  Only when Woods began walking, knife in hand, toward a crowd of bystanders did officers fire their weapons. Additionally, several of Beyoncé’s dancers were pictured on Twitter holding signs that read, “Justice 4 Mario Woods.”

The ADDA fully supports political speech and public activism, we practice it ourselves weekly with our well-read blog.   However, if Beyoncé wants to move beyond the cheap and tawdry publicity hit, there is plenty of real ground to be covered.

Police officers are tasked with protecting residents and police shootings understandably attract intense attention. But when you look at the greatest threat to young black people, it isn’t the police. It’s black-on-black violence. Every weekend in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago and Baltimore young black men are killing other young black men. The ADDA knows this because our membership works closely with the victims’ families every single day as we prosecute those responsible.

How much would society benefit if celebrity activists such as Ms. Knowles used their bully pulpits to decry the violence that has been tragically routine for way too long in some communities? To protest the shootings where a toddler dies from an errant bullet, a teen is killed while being robbed of his shoes, or a young woman takes a bullet while diving on top of neighborhood children to protect them during a drive-by shooting?

Real solutions to real violence take more than a drive-by performance at a Super Bowl halftime show.  But then again, real solutions probably don’t garner headlines and sell albums.

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.  He can be contacted at mdebbaudt@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

 

By ADDA Board of Directors

Unable to secure funding for paid initiative circulators and lacking public support for their measures, Chuck Reed and Carl DeMaio announced January 18, 2015, they would not seek to put either of their proposed pension initiatives on the 2016 ballot.

Instead, the less than dynamic duo of ex-politicians announced a list of events that needed to come true for one of their pension measures might prevail;  that the California economy enter a recession, that the Supreme Court rule against public unions in the pending Friedrichs case and that voter turnout would be low in the 2018 election-which they claimed would be their next attempt to put a measure on the ballot.

This is the third time Reed has announced a statewide pension initiative, only to fold for lack of public support and funding to pay signature gatherers. There is no groundswell of voters willing to circulate the petitions on their own time.  Clearly this initiative was not the “bulletproof” measure the duo loudly proclaimed but instead adds to their list of failures over the past several years.

Prior pension initiatives they proposed by the Reed and DeMaio were never circulated for the ballot because they crumbled under the light of public scrutiny.  One of Reed’s proposed and dropped initiatives received an Attorney General summary Reed claimed was misleading — but a Judge ruled the summary was accurate.  The duo abandoned another initiative even staunch pension critics pensions labeled as “false” Reed and DeMaio’s claims about the initiative’s scope.

Of course, 2015 was a terrible year for Reed, DeMaio, and the pension measure Reed helped pass in San Jose and DeMaio in San Diego.  In the summer of 2015, the San Jose City Council voted to rescind the Reed measure.  And late last year the  Public Employment Relations Board -a state agency—ruled DeMaio’s San Diego measure was improperly placed on the ballot and must be rescinded (that matter will now be on appeal).

Over the next two years, Reed and DeMaio will desperately hope for bad news to give their proposed pension measures and extinguished political careers life.  But, should they resurface, in the words of Dave Low, Chairman of Californians for Retirement Security “They can be assured that any scheme they cook up for 2018 will meet the same fate of their previous efforts because we will fight it with our full arsenal.”

For factual information, please read our five previous blogs that detail the pension issue and the financial disaster that Chuck Reed and Carl DeMaio want to create in California: (1) One Pension Scheme Shelved – New Ballot Measure Planned, (2) Attorney General: Reed initiative eliminates constitutional protections for vested pension benefits,  (3)The destruction Chuck Reed wants to bring to California, (4) Attention Shoppers: Don’t Sign that Misleading Pension Petition!, (5) Your Pension is Under Attack and (6) Fuzzy Math Continues to Drive Public Pension Hysteria.

By Marc Debbaudt

And now they come after bail.

Those opposed to incarceration as the primary tool which ensures public safety have been on a roll the last few years.  First came “realignment,” which shifted convicted felons from state prison to local jails. Then came “split sentences,” which allowed felons to serve a portion of their prison sentence in local custody followed by release to the community. Most recently, Proposition 47 reduced a slew of property and theft crimes to misdemeanors, thereby removing incarceration as a likely option for individuals convicted of those crimes. And of course we have the new laws that seek to prevent the deportation of criminal immigrants.

As detailed in an Associated Press article by Paul Elias, the latest target of the anti-incarceration crowd is the cash bail system. Lawsuits recently filed in Northern California challenge the cash bail system and seek its elimination. The claim is that cash bail is unfair, as those accused of felonies but lacking financial means are unfairly kept in custody. A person who fails to appear in court, whether released on bail or not, faces additional criminal penalties for their failure to appear.  However, experience has taught that the threat of additional punishment alone is not sufficient incentive to return to court for many.

In California, the Penal Code mandates that county judges set a bail schedule for felony offenses. The schedule dictates the bail amount for those arrested and booked into jail prior to their arraignment.  At the first court appearance, which occurs within 72 hours of arrest, the court may change the bail amount required.  Factors considered in setting bail include protection of the public, the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant and the probability of their appearing at trial or at a hearing. Further, by presenting new facts,within five days, the defendant may have a review of the bail set at arraignment.

However, not everyone is required to post bail. The rich and the poor can be released on the discretion of the arresting agency or the judge without posting bond. Some criminals are cited and released at the time of the arrest or after booking without bail being set or posted. Some are released At arraignment on their own recognizance [OR] which is a mere promise to return made to the Judge when the Judge believes the person is a good risk.

Bail is usually met by posting cash, or by using a bail bond service, which posts the bail amount but charges a fee that is a percentage of the bail amount.  Those who cannot post the bail amount remain in custody while waiting for their case to be concluded on an expedited timeframe.

While those challenging the cash bail system attack its constitutionality, cash bail is specifically contemplated by the Constitution.  The 8th Amendment states that “excessive bail ought not to be required.” The United States Supreme Court has decided that this phrase means that bail cannot be higher “than is reasonably calculated” to ensure the defendant’s appearance at trial. In other words, the amount of bail is determined to make sure that the person who is released shows up to court. The test is one of reasonableness. The Constitution and the Supreme Court both recognize the simple fact that a person who stands to lose financial assets is more likely to return to court than one released without a bail requirement. This time worn procedure has demonstrated that cash incentivizes a person’s return to court. Who is more likely to return to court, those with their hard earned money on the line, or those who have no risk if they abscond?

The inescapable reality of life, that some have more means than others, and that wealth has advantages over poverty, has never risen to the point where it constitutes a violation of our Constitution. Is wealth unfair? There is no mandate in the Constitution that all citizens must have equal financial status, or must enjoy the same opportunities that can be obtained through their financial abilities.  Removing a long standing time-tested element of the justice system that ensures public safety and the appearance of defendants for a misguided notion of “fairness” is foolhardy.  Is arrest and release fair to the next victim of the defendant?

The recent increase in crime following the passage of Prop 47 and various other criminal justice “reforms” is scary enough.  It would be a horrible mistake if our Legislature decides that we should let loose defendants before trial, and remove an effective way to ensure their return to court to face charges, for a misguided notion that the bail system is unfair. It is time for the social engineers to stop making our streets unsafe with one bad experiment with your safety after another.

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at mdebbaudt@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

By Marc Debbaudt

And now they come after bail.

Those opposed to incarceration as the primary tool which ensures public safety have been on a roll the last few years.  First came “realignment,” which shifted convicted felons from state prison to local jails. Then came “split sentences,” which allowed felons to serve a portion of their prison sentence in local custody followed by release to the community. Most recently, Proposition 47 reduced a slew of property and theft crimes to misdemeanors, thereby removing incarceration as a likely option for individuals convicted of those crimes. And of course we have the new laws that seek to prevent the deportation of criminal immigrants.

As detailed in an Associated Press article by Paul Elias, the latest target of the anti-incarceration crowd is the cash bail system. Lawsuits recently filed in Northern California challenge the cash bail system and seek its elimination. The claim is that cash bail is unfair, as those accused of felonies but lacking financial means are unfairly kept in custody. A person who fails to appear in court, whether released on bail or not, faces additional criminal penalties for their failure to appear.  However, experience has taught that the threat of additional punishment alone is not sufficient incentive to return to court for many.

In California, the Penal Code mandates that county judges set a bail schedule for felony offenses. The schedule dictates the bail amount for those arrested and booked into jail prior to their arraignment.  At the first court appearance, which occurs within 72 hours of arrest, the court may change the bail amount required.  Factors considered in setting bail include protection of the public, the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant and the probability of their appearing at trial or at a hearing. Further, by presenting new facts, within five days, the defendant may have a review of the bail set at arraignment.

However, not everyone is required to post bail. The rich and the poor can be released on the discretion of the arresting agency or the judge without posting bond. Some criminals are cited and released at the time of the arrest or after booking without bail being set or posted. Some are released At arraignment on their own recognizance [OR] which is a mere promise to return made to the Judge when the Judge believes the person is a good risk.

 

Bail is usually met by posting cash, or by using a bail bond service, which posts the bail amount but charges a fee that is a percentage of the bail amount.  Those who cannot post the bail amount remain in custody while waiting for their case to be concluded on an expedited timeframe.

While those challenging the cash bail system attack its constitutionality, cash bail is specifically contemplated by the Constitution.  The 8th Amendment states that “excessive bail ought not to be required.” The  United States Supreme Court has decided that this phrase means that bail cannot be higher “than is reasonably calculated” to ensure the defendant’s appearance at trial. In other words, the amount of bail is determined to make sure that the person who is released shows up to court. The test is one of reasonableness. The Constitution and the Supreme Court both recognize the simple fact that a person who stands to lose financial assets is more likely to return to court than one released without a bail requirement. This time worn procedure has demonstrated that cash incentivizes a person’s return to court. Who is more likely to return to court, those with their hard earned money on the line, or those who have no risk if they abscond?

The inescapable reality of life, that some have more means than others, and that wealth has advantages over poverty, has never risen to the point where it constitutes a violation of our Constitution. Is wealth unfair? There is no mandate in the Constitution that all citizens must have equal financial status, or must enjoy the same opportunities that can be obtained through their financial abilities.  Removing a long standing time-tested element of the justice system that ensures public safety and the appearance of defendants for a misguided notion of “fairness” is foolhardy.  Is arrest and release fair to the next victim of the defendant?

The recent increase in crime following the passage of Prop 47 and various other criminal justice “reforms” is scary enough.  It would be a horrible mistake if our Legislature decides that we should let loose defendants before trial, and remove an effective way to ensure their return to court to face charges, for a misguided notion that the bail system is unfair. It is time for the social engineers to stop making our streets unsafe with one bad experiment with your safety after another.

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at mdebbaudt@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

[By Marc Debbaudt]

Prop 47 has unleashed a torrent of harmful repercussions that the creators of this impetuous piece of legislation never considered – and have yet to take responsibility for or address. It is now time that the California Legislature fix some of the most glaring flaws.

I have expressed my disdain for this ludicrous piece of social engineering that purportedly would create safer neighborhoods and schools across the state. It is becoming increasingly evident that the complete opposite has occurred. Innocent people are incurring heavy costs -physical and emotional – while criminals are reaping the rewards due to a lack of punishment and no incentive to abide by the law or be well-functioning members of society.

Many community organizations and stakeholders have borne the brunt of Prop 47’s costs and consequences. These include the community as a whole, residents, retail establishments, law enforcement agencies, other members of the criminal justice system, as well as rehabilitation and treatment centers.

Outlined below are the major areas in which substantial negative impact has been documented due to the passage of this legislation, whether it be through physical and emotional suffering, increasing monetary costs, and increasing crime rates resulting from no clear punishments or repercussions.

Community

Since the passage of Prop 47, close to 4,000 inmates have had their sentences reduced and have been released from state prisons into our communities.

In the city of Los Angeles, violent crimes such as aggravated assaults and robberies soared 20.6 percent through the first nine months of 2015 compared with the same period in the previous year. Property crimes such as burglaries and motor vehicle thefts rose 10.9%

Of the nearly 4,500 people that L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies arrested for Prop 47 crimes since the initiative’s implementation in November 2014, more than 460 have been arrested again – some on multiple occasions (May 2015). This means that people who theoretically would have been behind bars for the crimes they had committed are roaming the streets and continuing to victimize innocent and law-abiding residents.

The toll of these crimes on the victims does not end when the crime is completed. When a criminal steals property, takes an identity to commit a theft, or forges checks, the victim suffers a loss of personal privacy and security that lingers. It takes valuable time to contact the authorities, banks, creditors, and businesses – not to mention to regain (if at all possible) the sense of security and privacy that the victims once had.

Criminal Justice System

No matter what your criminal history may be – even if you have served time for a serious or violent crime – you can no longer be sent back to prison if convicted of a new theft or drug crime because they have been reclassified as misdemeanor offenses. Basically, an individual’s prior criminal history is no longer considered in determining whether an offense should be prosecuted as a felony since Prop 47 offenses, with limited exceptions, can only be misdemeanors, meaning state prison is no longer a possible punishment or deterrent.

According to the LAPD and LA County Sheriff’s Department, narcotic-related arrests in those two departments have decreased by nearly 50%. Officers realize the time spent arresting narcotic offenders for misdemeanor crimes is a waste of time because there is virtually no punishment and no chance for drug treatment.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell wrote an article that details how “Thanks to Prop. 47, Californians are less safe than they were a year ago.”

The costs to prosecute these crimes haven’t just magically disappeared. To the extent they are being prosecuted by City Attorneys, the costs have just been shifted from the County District Attorney to other local agencies. That is not savings; that is merely a shift of costs from the County to the City. Reclassifying a crime from a felony to a misdemeanor does not change the associated court costs. These costs are experienced throughout the criminal justice system, include paying for courts, prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, court reporters, jurors, bailiffs, transportation from jails to courts, etc.

Rehabilitation and Treatment Facilities

Due to Prop 47’s passage, the criminal justice system lost all leverage to mandate rehabilitative drug programs. There is no longer any incentive for an offender to accept a court-ordered 18-month to two-year intensive treatment program when the actual maximum consequence for a drug conviction is only six months in county jail. Few receive the maximum unless they lose after going through a jury trial.

Treatment program enrollments are down 60% in L.A. County, and addicted offenders are not getting the treatment they desperately need because they don’t have to attend and complete a rehab program. The social engineers of this policy claimed that it was about rehabilitation, yet there is no rehabilitation taking place.

In 2013, 60% of adult males booked into jails across the country tested positive for drugs, regardless of their offense (LA Times). It is undisputed that drug use increases the odds of criminal activity, yet no policy scheme has been created that addresses this problem.

Drug addicts now often escape punishment for crimes they commonly commit to support their habits, such as shoplifting, writing bad checks and any thefts under $950 – even of guns. This leniency in punishment only helps to facilitate criminal behavior and does nothing at all to address the root cause of the problem – drug addiction.

Perhaps the beliefs that we cannot simply incarcerate our way out of our nation’s drug problem and that rehabilitation is the key, have merit. However, rehabilitation cannot work when those who need it do not have to attend the programs designed to accomplish this goal.

Sex Crimes & DNA

Proposition 47 took away a critical asset to fight sex crimes when it reduced the penalty for possession of date-rape drugs to a misdemeanor. The only reason to possess a date-rape drug is to commit a heinous crime. So, why would you allow possession of the drug that facilitates this crime to go unpunished? This legislation gives these criminals a free pass to commit their crimes by ignoring this obvious way to potentially prevent them from occurring.

Thousands of fewer DNA samples are being taken from suspects every month because state law permits police to collect DNA only from felony suspects. This will not only make it much harder, if not impossible, to solve old cases such as murder and rape, but the percentage of future violent crimes that could have been solved quickly through DNA matches will decrease dramatically.
Critics have cried out that the U.S. corrections system is simply a “revolving-door” that does not work or help to address the root causes of criminality. Prop 47’s answer is to simply remove the door— to release those who commit crimes and permit them to freely roam our streets without consequence for their actions. A policy premised on a different approach to treating criminals has instead devolved in actual practice into no punishment and no rehabilitation, which is an indisputable and fatal flaw.

Prop 47 has not only sacrificed law-abiding citizens, but it also has yet to deliver on its intended goal of changing the behavior of drug addicts and thieves. Releasing thieves to commit more crimes and allowing drug offenders to roam freely in the community without mandating and imposing treatment does absolutely nothing to change criminal behavior. It is simply reckless.

At this point, the question going forward has to be: What do we value more? Do we value the repeat drug offenders who steal and assault others to feed their habit, or the law-abiding residents who are the victims of these criminals? The common sense answer seems obvious to me.

For factual information, please read our previous blogs that detail the various problems with Prop. 47 (1) The Public and Private Deception of Prop 47 (2) California’s Proposition 47 – The LA Times Cost Savings Myth (3) Proposition 47 lottery: When will your crime victim number be called? (4) Reaping the Bitter Rewards of Proposition 47 and related blogs (5) Punishment, Not Programs (6) What Realignment Has Done to Restitution Collection and How It Can Be Fixed and (7) Why are victims playing second fiddle to convicted criminals?

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at mdebbaudt@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

[By Marc Debbaudt]

While thinking about the debacle known as Prop. 47, it occurred to me to ask how we actually got into this situation. As I detailed in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, California’s Prop. 47 revolution: Voters were sold a bill of goods, Prop 47 is nothing but a piece of deceptive social engineering. The proponents called this piece of legislation “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” when in reality it had absolutely nothing to do with safety at all. How could anyone believe that reducing felonies to misdemeanors could possibly make our neighborhoods and schools safer? The voters were misled. The proponents thrust upon us a piece of legislation that does not create any clear benefits to society, but instead benefits only drug addicts and thieves.
So I began thinking, what is going on here? Why are we being soft on criminals and letting them benefit at our expense? This appears to be part of a larger malevolent or, at least, misguided social agenda.

Let’s put it in context. First we had the Three Strikes law in 1994. With the passage of this legislation, some people bleated that the state was “locking up pizza thieves for life”. That was a distortion of the truth. The state was locking up criminal recidivists who had at least two prior serious and violent crimes and yet continued to break the law. In other words, the people of this state were saying to three-strikers that they had had enough of recalcitrant violent criminals who continue to offend without sufficient repercussions. Even the apparently low-level theft of a pizza from a pizza delivery boy can evolve into something awful given the array of possible situations that can develop when a thief confronts a victim. Nevertheless, legislation to modify the Three Strikes law was passed making it applicable only to offenses that are considered serious and violent. Thus we began to soften the consequences of crime.

Next, in 2011, the misguided experiment called AB 109 or Realignment was passed. This shifted felons from state prisons to county jails, all in an big effort to reduce prison “overcrowding”. Realignment did not reduce the number of felons; it simply shifted felons to county jails to serve the rest of their sentences. The State did this to pass the costs of housing felons onto the counties. There were no cost savings. County jails were not meant to hold inmates for periods exceeding one year, but thanks to this piece of legislation, county jails are now housing some criminals for 20-plus years which, of course, ultimately reduces the availability of housing for other felons and misdemeanants.

Then Prop 47 followed in November 2014, reducing a host of serious felonies to misdemeanors. With that, there was another brilliant piece of social engineering that our Legislature passed under the radar. It was the reduction of misdemeanors from a potential sentence of 365 days to 364 days. Now you may ask, why would the Legislature do that?

Here’s why: If a crime carries a 365-day sentence, it is considered an “aggravated offense” in Federal Immigration Courts. This increases the likelihood that an immigrant who is here illegally and committed a crime would get deported. Our “compassionate” Legislature decided deporting those here illegally who commit crimes while here is somehow “inhumane.”

Now we learn that a new piece of legislation has been passed in which prosecutors are mandated to consider immigration consequences when making deals with immigrants who are here legally or illegally. In other words, the Legislature wants prosecutors to structure deals to avoid deportation.
The madness doesn’t stop there. Recently, the state decided that non-violent Second-Strikers are to receive early prison release and early parole consideration. Instead of serving 80 percent of their sentence, these individuals are now considered for early release after they have served just 50 percent, or if they are within 12 months of having served 50 percent of their sentence.

By the way, none of these laws considers whether the defendant who is to be released has a violent and lengthy criminal history, a long history of violating parole or probation conditions, or may still pose a danger to society.

Supporters of leniency in sentencing say it’s necessary to reduce prison overcrowding. They want us to believe that prison overcrowding is a legitimate and growing concern and that we must combat it.

But what is prison overcrowding exactly and why is it such a worry?

Before I answer that, we should first address what a prison is. A prison is a place where convicted felons are confined because they committed a crime that showed their unwillingness to live in harmony with others and be law-abiding members of society. We cannot trust them to participate in our community, so we take away their freedom and lock them up. There are three main reasons to incarcerate these law breakers: rehabilitation, punishment, and deterrence. Punishment and deterrence are now anathema to those who tinker with public safety and foist reforms upon us. Today, anything other than rehabilitation is characterized as an inhumane, uncompassionate response to crime – never mind that incarcerated criminals are not committing crimes on the streets.

I have always thought that prison should be so bad that you never want to go there, and so bad that if you are ever sent there you will never want to go back. And the reality is that prisons are bad places. People who commit crimes are forced to sleep in small quarters with individuals who are just like them. It’s hard to sleep or to enjoy your housing with chronic rule breakers surrounding you. I’m not suggesting that we be inhumane and I am certainly not advocating torture or starvation or anything of the sort. I am simply suggesting that prison should not be comfortable or nice and that some discomfort and overcrowding should be tolerated.
So when does overcrowding reach the point that we declare it inhumane and decide that we need to start releasing these law breakers back onto the streets before their sentence is fully served? Who determines how many prison bodies per square-foot is reasonable?
Simply put, I don’t buy the idea that prison overcrowding ever reached the point that it became inhumane or intolerable; California prisons were never stacking prisoners like sardines into a can. Felons deserve to be in prison. Obviously, to the extent you accept the premise of overcrowding, one solution to overcrowding, as some sensibly minded people suggest, is that we simply need more prisons.

Why are prisons overcrowded? Here are some possible answers:

(1) The rate at which criminals are being incarcerated is exceeding the rate at which prisoners are being released or are dying. So, let’s be clear right out of the gate, solving the prison overcrowding problem does not begin to address the increasing crime problem we are facing. In fact, addressing prison overcrowding doesn’t even acknowledge that there are crimes going on outside of prisons or that good, law-abiding people are suffering. It places relieving the stresses of criminal confinement above crime itself. It places concern for the criminal above concern for the victim and community.

(2) Improvements in law enforcement tactics have led to more people being arrested for their crimes. Law enforcement agencies have become much more productive due to increasing technology and more proactive approaches to policing. More criminals caught equals more need for prison space.

(3) The same Legislature that is now letting criminals out of prisons and jails keeps creating new types and classifications of crimes.

(4) Harsher sentences are now being imposed for certain crimes.

In 1994, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP) examined prison overcrowding and found that, while overcrowding is a problem in many facilities, it is not known whether it actually had any negative affect on inmates. In other words, maybe it could positively affect inmates. Maybe it makes these individuals want to behave while in prison so they can be released earlier and maybe it motivates them to never commit another crime that would land them back in prison. If recidivism is increasing because our prisons are no longer overcrowded, then maybe overcrowding helps reduce rates of recidivism.
Research from 2003 indicates that prison management style, rather than jail overcrowding, may be related to misconduct. Overcrowding may potentially have a direct effect on prison management by creating a far more stressful environment on the corrections officers and wardens to manage the increased population. It seems to follow logically that we must increase the prison staff – not release criminals – when the prison population increases.

Another study in 2006 found that a high prison population has a direct, negative effect on the psychological state of inmates. Overcrowding has been known to cause stressful situations. But isn’t prison supposed to be stressful? Aren’t negative psychological states appropriate and a predictable consequence for those sent to state prison? I guess our social engineers want us to be sorry prison doesn’t make prisoners happy.

A study on prison population density in Japan found that it had a direct correlation with prison violence rates. This study confirmed the obvious: The more prisoners you have, the more violence you have in prison. I do not understand why this would be a reason to reduce the prison population and release prisoners onto the streets to harm law-abiding citizens. Which is worse: Prison being bad for prisoners, or the physical and emotional harm that released prisoners inflict on victims.
In today’s system, apparently the solution to all the problems caused by prison overcrowding is to reduce the prison sentences and reduce crimes from felonies to misdemeanors in order to make prisoners happier and set them loose in society.

When the media chooses to discuss this topic we are given statistics like: “The United States currently incarcerates 1 in nearly 100 American adults.” That sounds awful, but what if it were presented like this: “Nearly one in 100 American adults commits and is incarcerated for a crime. The media portrays the problem as if the government is excessively locking up Americans, as opposed to properly incarcerating criminals. It’s a subtle distortion of reality. That distortion leads to loaded rhetoric suggesting that those of us who have greater compassion for victims than defendants suffer from “incarceration addiction.” Apparently being tough on crime and criminals is a now a bad thing in our society.
Social engineers claim there are better ways to protect our communities than through mass incarceration. They tout the benefits of rehabilitation and treatment and the promotion of personal responsibility – as though we live in a utopia. They claim there is a way to hold criminals accountable while providing them with an opportunity to get back on their feet. They push community supervision programs and alternatives to incarceration as though these programs work. It all sounds nice.

But the truth is simple; the history of rehabilitation is a history of massive failure. Rehabilitation simply does not work. The fact is, while criminals are incarcerated, they are not committing crimes against good law-abiding people. Isn’t that a good enough reason to put them in prison?

With all of the negative consequences and deceptions from Prop. 47 and Realignment, I shudder at the thought of what’s coming next. Apparently, these reckless social engineers are now turning their efforts to eliminating the bail system, so that everyone will now be out of custody without having to post bail. They will claim poor people are not able to bail out, and the bail system is designed only for the rich. However, they won’t talk about the current availability of own recognizance (OR) release. They won’t talk about cite-out programs, which are the exercise of discretion in using the defendant’s promise, when he is not a threat to the safety of the public, to return to court without posting bail. Instead, they will continue to ignore what is currently in place, just like they did with the Deferred Entry of Judgment, Prop 36, and Drug Court programs when they decided to release untreated drug users and thieves into our communities. They won’t even begin to predict the costs on the administration of justice in the courts with such a reckless proposition.

So, my question is: What is their true goal in pushing their policies of leniency and decriminalization? One can only wonder, given the clear negative impact on the safety and wellbeing of our community and the victimization of law-abiding citizens that directly follows these new social experiments.

For factual information, please read our previous blogs that detail the various problems with Prop. 47 (1) The Public and Private Deception of Prop 47 (2) California’s Proposition 47 – The LA Times Cost Savings Myth (3) Proposition 47 lottery: When will your crime victim number be called? (4) Reaping the Bitter Rewards of Proposition 47 and related blogs (5) Punishment, Not Programs (6) What Realignment Has Done to Restitution Collection and How It Can Be Fixed and (7) Why are victims playing second fiddle to convicted criminals?

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at mdebbaudt@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.