The recent uptick in crime in our communities is disconcerting.
We the people cannot passively expect the system to protect people and property while we lift nary a finger. A community of 100,000 residents like Fairfield or Vacaville could hire 10,000 peace officers, and that only is 1 peace officer for every 10 people. Despite their skill set, professionalism and desire to help, the odds are there will not be a policeman when you most need it. The primary person responsible for your safety, the safety of your loved ones, and the security of your property is you.
California prison realignment is cited for much of this surge, but some thought and consideration is warranted before nodding our heads in agreement. Are we to believe if we just left them in prison a few more years, they would finally see the light and be model citizens? These people aren’t steaks that need a few more minutes on the grill to be perfect. When we the taxpayers are paying for someone to be in prison, are we viewing that building as a “corrective and rehabilitation” facility, or as a “detention” center?
In the annals of human history, warehousing people has never worked. We put young men and women at the most influential period in their life in the system surrounded by other criminals, some who are repeat offenders; not exactly an ideal peer group to mentor developing minds. If they complete their term, are they viewed as “rehabilitated,” or have they just paid their debt to society? What skills and assets do they have when they exit the gates and attempt to reintegrate into society?
To measure the effectiveness of our prison system, one can look at the recidivism rate.
The recidivism rate for California prisons has fallen to 60 percent, down from 70 percent (the highest in the nation). What that says is that for every 10 prisoners released from prison, six will be back in the system within three years. If our schools had 60 percent of their graduates come back for remedial schooling, we would clamor to shut them down. If a car manufacturer had 60 percent of their vehicles sent back to the factory for repairs, they would be out of business.
Why do we accept this with our justice system?
The cost to house one inmate for year in a California prison is approaching $50,000. If the taxpayers are on the hook for that much money per person, it seems we could get more value from them beyond just warehousing them. We could hire the actual convict to pick up trash for $50,000 a year provided they don’t repeat any unlawful behavior, and it would make more financial sense for our wallets, and actually improve our communities.
To boil it down: “The system ain’t working and we’re tired of paying for it.”
If there is a limited supply of places to house them, then it is time to prioritize who we really want isolated. Convicted prisoners for victimless crimes, like drug use or prostitution, should be diverted to programs where they can receive education and counseling without completely destroying their lives. For white-collar crimes like embezzlement, let the victim extract restitution from the culprit; why should the taxpayers house them? For people who should not have been in the country in the first place, deport them. They were guests here and they violated our laws, so their right to be guests here should be revoked. To address convicted murderers – bring back the firing squad.
We the people need to thoroughly reflect on our expectations of our justice system. The false security blanket stemming from the “lock ‘em up” mentality is not working, and is not sustainable. Rethinking our definitions of criminal activities and solutions to such behavior is necessary, not only for the health of our respective budgets, but for the safety and vitality of our communities.
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.