Santa Barbara County's Highly Punitive Criminal Justice System
…Said Sheriff Bill Brown in a press release, “These early releases hamper our ability to provide for the public’s safety. These convicted criminals who should be serving their sentences in jail will now be back on the streets with the potential to re-offend. The early releases undermine confidence in the criminal justice system by sending the wrong message to the criminal element.” (The Independent, January 26, 2010—underlining added)
The Role of Santa Barbara County's Highly Punitive Criminal Justice System in Increasing Jail and Prison Incarceration--at Great Cost to Both the County and the State
Jail overcrowding has many causes. First and foremost, is the excessive incarceration of pretrial defendants resulting from high bail schedules and the lack of community-based alternatives to incarceration. This is facilitated, in Santa Barbara County, by our Sheriff's obsession with building a new jail. These matters are discussed in detail on the Pretrial Detention page of this website.
The Sheriff's primitive attitude towards crime, which mirrors that of CCPOA, was well expressed in the following quote from the Independent:
California has too many inmates, the U.S. Supreme Court and nearly everyone else agrees.
Orange-jumpsuited felons pack cell blocks, and row after row of bunk beds claim countless square feet in gymnasiums and other correctional buildings in the State’s 33 prisons.
The burden of paying for this system falls on all Californians.
But a third of the State bears greater responsibility for our overcrowded prisons than their fellow
residents, according to a recently released study  from Santa Clara University’s law school. W. David Ball, a criminal law professor and the study’s author, devised a new statistical measure to determine how many new felons a California county can justify sending to prison each year.
In his report, titled “Tough on Crime (on the State’s Dime),” Ball argues that 18 counties consume far
more prison spending than the rest of the State when violent crime rates are factored in.
The study compares San Bernardino and Alameda counties, which are similar in population size and
number of violent offenses. They differ dramatically, however, when it comes to incarceration rates. San Bernardino County sent three times as many felons to prison as Alameda County did from 2000
For additional context, San Bernardino County had 203 “new felon admissions” per 100,000 residents in 2009. That is 41 percent higher than Los Angeles County’s rate of 144, figures from the U.S. Census Bureau  and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [PDF]  show.
Michael Ramos, San Bernardino district attorney, did not dispute the numbers, though he said those data points unfairly maligned his county. Ramos continued in a written Statement:
While county to county comparisons can be illustrative, by definition all crime issues are local. So to
some extent all such comparisons are apples to oranges. Professor Ball’s study strongly implies that San Bernardino County has given up on rehabilitation and sends low-level offenders to prison because it is cheaper. I can attest that no public safety official in this County has ever had such a discussion, nor do we reduce public safety nor an individual’s liberty to such a financial equation.
The disparities are not a coincidence, Ball writes, but the result of policy decisions by local criminal
justice agencies. County district attorneys choose which crimes to prosecute and what punishment to seek.
Superior court judges and local juries have final say on whether convicts receive prison terms.
“The State is paying for San Bernardino’s decision to treat crime with prison,” Ball wrote, “but Alameda – indeed any California citizen who does not live in San Bernardino – has no say in electing the people who design San Bernardino’s criminal justice policies.” ...
The first of Ball’s findings is that rates of violent crime – murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault – have almost zero bearing on the number of prison sentences handed down in California counties. A regression analysis revealed violent crimes account for only 3 percent of what happens with incarceration numbers. That number is too low to be statistically significant.
Counties with the highest prison use generally enjoyed low violent crime rates and less reported criminal activity than the Statewide average. “The argument that prison usage is driven by violent crime rates has no statistical support,” the report says.
For the analysis, Ball organized the State’s 58 counties into categories:
• High use: The 18 counties that take up more prison space and money than their violent crime rates justify. These counties are spread across the State, including Santa Barbara and San Bernardino, as well as Santa Clara and Shasta...
Who's Behind Sheriff Bill Brown?
The political operative and behind-the-scenes coordinator of our local pro-jail lobby is Jeremy Lindaman. It was Lindaman who, in 2005 and 2006, lined up Montecito money to back Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown for a run against incumbent Sheriff Jim Anderson. Lindaman hired the liberal Democrat Emily Allen to woo a clique of naive liberals, including the County Democratic Central Committee, into supporting the tax measure for a new jail new jail, by persuading them that it was a humane solution to chronic jail overcrowding.
Apparently the lobby had decided that Sheriff Jim Anderson, whatever his ability as Sheriff, was incapable of successfully lobbying for money for the jail from the lobby's pet handout program, AB 900. Bill Brown had the gift of gab and the ambition to accomplish the task, and he did not disappoint. In fact, his successful lobbying for state jail money has made him a rising star in the statewide jail-and-prison lobby centering on CCPOA and its political allies. In 2014, it is of little concern to the Sheriff's many politician supporters that he has neglected management of the Sheriff's Department during his countless days out of town lobbying for AB 900 money among the state incarceration bureaucracy and polishing his personal image to advance in the State Sheriff's Association hierarchy.
The Sheriff claims that the hundreds of pretrial prisoners incarcerated after being charged with minor non-violent crimes, often involving alcohol or drug use, are all too dangerous to release pretrial. Apparently a young white man who attacks a law enforcement facility with a Molotov Cocktail doesn't fit that category and so is released on his own recognizance.
Who doubts that a Latino of Keifer's age, or any age, including a minor, would be charged with terrorism, attempted murder of a peace officer, arson on an occupied dwelling, use of an explosive device, etc.? What would his bail be? A million dollars? Probably none would be granted, and he or she would be facing a life term.
There was no newspaper account of the disposition of Keifer's case, but court documents indicate that all charges were reduced to the point where he was given a seven-year sentence, with five years waived. He was not sent to state prison but is currently serving two years in the County Jail.
Corruption of the Political Process by the Local Incarceration Lobby: The November 2010 Ballot Measure S to Raise Taxes for the New Jail
In January 2009 a $40,000 poll was was conducted about a new jail. But the purpose was not simply to gauge public support for the idea. Rather it was to determine the messaging that would gain maximum support for the measure's approval. Assuming that this is, in fact, legal, it nevertheless demonstrates a level of manipulative elitism and unworthy of our elected public officials. The fact that the entire board of Supervisors was so easily persuaded of the overriding necessity of building a costly new jail without bothering to obtain any independent analysis of Rosser's needs projections or learning about alternatives being discussed nationally suggests incompetence or corruption--or at the very least negligent deference to the powerful political machine funded by CCPOA and its allies.
An example of the tendentious nature of the reasons for supporting the tax measure that were tried out in the poll are the following cut and pasted from the poll:
What Role Does Racism Play?
It is easy to accuse the local criminal justice system of racism given the disproportionate rate of prosecution and incarceration of minority (mostly Latino) youth. However, it is difficult to separate race from poverty. Santa Barbara's Latino community provides the majority of low-paid agricultural and service labor, and the large number of undocumented or "illegal" immigrants serves to keep wages low.
Poor people become easy targets for police wishing to score easy arrests especially for minor drug crimes and most poor persons here are Latino. Homeless persons, mostly white, form a second overly prosecuted group, largely due to pressure from local merchants.
However, racism does display itself both through exaggerated stereotypes of depraved Latino criminal "gangsters" and the extravagant use of gang enhancements but also in the differential treatment accorded to whites and Latinos arrested for similar crimes. The case of the Isla Vista firebomber, the UCSB student who tossed a Molotov cocktail at the Sheriff's Substation was handled very differently from how a similar case involving a Latino youth (or adult) would have been handled.
Mining the Data Used in Ball’s Study for a Comparison of
Santa Barbara County with a Comparable Low Use County
Probing deeper into the databases used in Ball’s study, it is possible to uncover important differences between Santa Barbara County and Sonoma County, a “Low Use” county that approximates Santa Barbara County in population and violent crime rate, and that is used as a “benchmark county” in our County Budget reports. (This comparison parallels the analysis given by Ball of “High Use” San Bernardino County with “Low Use” Alameda County.)
Using data from spreadsheets associated with the Ball’s study, I constructed the following Excel spreadsheet:
Ball compared San Bernardino and Alameda Counties. I did a similar comparison of Santa Barbara and Sonoma County, one of the closest comps according to our annual reports. (Pretrial Detention rates were compared between the two counties on the Pretrial Detention page.) Ball's study may be seen by clicking here.
An important study from Santa Clara law school identified Santa Barbara County as one of the state's "Rich Four" most punitive counties. The title was earned by the high rate that our criminal justice system sends prisoners to state prison relative to our population and crime rate. The study was described by Ryan Gabrielson of California Watch, part of the Berkeley Center for Investigative Reporting. Here is the beginning of Gabrielson's article:
The second row gives the Adult (18-69) Population at Risk in 2005 for the two counties as given in California Department of Justice Table 27: (http://stats.doj.ca.gov/cjsc_stats/prof05/00/27.pdf). The third row gives the average reported violent crime rate for each county for the ten-year period (the latest for which Ball could find complete data). This is followed by data on prison sentences given to those convicted of various crimes.
In each case, both total number of years of prison and the number of years per hundred thousand of county population of all the persons sent to prison are given. These totals appear in the second and third columns. The fourth column shows the excess number of persons sent to State prison and the excess number of years of prison incarceration for each year (only in the case of sex crimes are the raw numbers lower for Sonoma).
The fifth column adjusts the Santa Barbara numbers up by the proportionately higher adult at-risk population and the higher crime rate in Sonoma County to produce an adjusted excess (Adj Excess) years of prison given in Santa Barbara. The right-hand column shows these adjusted differences as percentages higher or lower than the Sonoma values.
Looking at the fifth and fourth rows from the bottom in the column, we see that Santa Barbara is sending persons to prison at a rate over 50% higher than Sonoma. Santa Barbara County shows a surplus number of years of imprisonment of almost 3,467 years. Had Santa Barbara been just a little more populous, matching Sonoma’s adult at-risk population, and had just a little higher crime rate matching Sonoma’s (as shown by the adjusted numbers), this would have risen to an estimated 4,250 surplus years of imprisonment.
Using the actual surplus, and multiplying by the 2009 calculated cost per prisoner incarcerated, we estimate that Santa Barbara’s more punitive incarceration policy resulted in over $163 million more in incarceration costs to the State of California than were incurred by Sonoma County during the same ten-year period. (The adjusted numbers suggest that if Santa Barbara the slightly higher crime rate of Sonoma, the excess would have been over $171 million, and had its adult at-risk population had been as large as Sonoma’s, this would have risen to over $200 million.)
According to Ball’s reasoning, during the ten year period, Santa Barbara County received a subsidy from the State of approximately $163 million to over $200 million relative to Sonoma Company as a result of its highly punitive incarceration policies.
It is also noteworthy that Santa Barbara County, on an adjusted basis, sends almost two and one-half times more persons to State prison on drug charges than Sonoma County, with a state prison incarceration rate eight times higher the 28% higher drug crime conviction rate. That is, there are 28% more drug convictions in Santa Barbara County, but this moderate excess in convictions resulted in more than twice as many persons sent to state prison in lieu of lesser penalties.
What About Gangs?
One reason for the surplus years of prison time meted out by our local criminal justice system is the profligate addition of gang-enhancement time to criminal sentences. At the height of the alarm over crack cocaine and drive-by gang shootings, the state passed the STEP (Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention) Act which added years to sentences when crimes were committed on behalf of a criminal street gang. In the eyes of the public, the crimes targeted were drive-by shootings to affirm gang turf and drug-related crimes on behalf of gangs supported by drug-dealing.
However, highly punitive prosecutors such as our Santa Barbara DAs soon expanded the use of gang enhancements to anyone in a secret gang database who committed almost any type of crime. Simple larcenies, personal grudge fights over girl friends, rapes--almost any kind of crime by an alleged gang member was construed as being "on behalf of the gang" even when the gang condemned the activity (notably rape).
The sad truth is that many troubled and rebellious adolescents of all ethnicities take drugs, sell some drugs on the side to make to make money, get drunk in public, and commit a variety of petty crimes. If they are from a racial or ethnic minority they are likely to become associated in some way with one or another of the "criminal street gangs" targeted by the STEP Act and thus become vulnerable to the application of gang enhancements. The secret gang databases in Santa Barbara County contain well over a thousand names, most of persons who have only the loosest association with gangs. Others have been inactive for years. The truly active gang members consist of a relatively small core group of persons who are actively involved in doing "work" most of which consists in perverse acts of aggression against rival gangs.
Santa Barbara County's High Bail Bond Rates
The entire bail bond system has come under attack by those wishing to reform the pretrial detention process to reduce the enormous percentage of pretrial defendants incarcerated throughout the nation. But even without reform, strong differences can be found, and once again Santa Barbara County is seen to be highly punitive compared with a less punitive County such as Sonoma. The lower bail bond rates are a partial explanation for the far lower rate of pretrial incarceration ADP there than here:
Blatant and clearly false fear-mongering:
A crude invocation of the incarceration lobby's
(Do our Supervisor's really subscribe to this?)
A ridiculous falsehood about possible court action requiring construction of a new jail:
The childish belief that the assortment of alcoholics, drug addicts, mentally ill, homeless persons, and others committing petty non-violent crimes that fill our jail constitutes a dangerous "criminal element" is unworthy of an important public official. Unfortunately, it appears to be a point of view that pervades the County's entire criminal justice system.
Statistics demonstrate just how punitive our local prosecutors are. In a state known for its aggressive prosecution of minority youth, our county prosecutors outdo those of most other counties in their aggressive prosecutions that result in high numbers sent to prison, often for minor drug crimes. The following brief compilation suggests the magnitude of the problem.