Saturday, February 13, 2010

L.A.Times puts Peterson crime and merit of early-release program in perspective

In contrast to the Bee (I'm sorry to say), the Los Angeles Times has a proper understanding of the Kevin Peterson incident and puts early-release of inmates in perspective.

You may recall that Peterson was released sixteen days early from the downtown jail and within twelve hours was re-arrested for an assault on a Loaves & Fishes counsellor. SacHo has blogged about the matter twice previously: "Trouble in Homeless World: An alleged crime on North C Street" and "The Bee: Scare tactics and hypocrisy."

The L. A. Times put matters in proper perspective in an editorial, today. Here a snip at its end:
[The application of the early-release legislation] is a mess, and [Attny General Jerry] Brown is empowered to fix it by explaining how the law should be applied -- yet so far, his office has been silent. He needs to address the issue soon.

But we can't end there without decrying the demagoguery over Peterson. The purpose of last year's prison reform law was to cut the state inmate population by about 6,500. It does this in part through good-behavior credits, but mainly by revising parole rules to stop returning nonviolent offenders to prison for minor parole violations.

In theory, this should actually reduce crime, because it will free up parole officials to focus more attention on truly dangerous people. Yet the crimes that are avoided because parole officers are working more efficiently don't make headlines. That's why it's foolish to set corrections policy based on sensational cases. California's efforts to reduce its prison population should be judged on their effect on overall crime, not their portrayal on the evening news.
Of course, the incident at Loaves & Fishes is awful. And it is only by weighing the bad against the good that we might understand that the early-release program has net benefits. It's a terrible calculus: Allowing some crime to happen to prevent other crimes. But life and budgetting is like that. We can only hope that legislators and Attorney Generals will find what is best for society, on the whole.

While I would bet that "incarcerating less" is a good idea, in theory [since the USA incarcerates rather spectacularly more than other First World countries with there being no demonstrable benefit], I would like someone to ACTUALLY DO the terrible calculus in a comprehensive study, that looks at all factors, and tries to objectively SEE if the early-release program is a good idea, or not.

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