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Our Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System

Jails Need Criminals to Stay in Business


Your recent article on the early release of Karen Flores from prison quoted numerous local leaders who expressed shock that Flores served so little time in prison for embezzling $700,000 from the Santa Barbara Police Department. Prominent among those opposing her early release were the judge who sentenced her to 10 years and high-ranking members of the Police Department who claimed to be “betrayed” by Flores.

I personally see nothing wrong with Flores’s early release. What I find more appalling is the length of average sentences and time served in prison in this country, especially sentences given to minority drug users and minor dealers. Long sentences contribute to recidivism; are an enormous drain on local, state, and national budgets; and break up families, especially in minority communities.

Even worse is the wholesale demonization of minority teenagers who may do little more than socialize with gang members for a few years, engaging in minor acts of delinquency typical of teenagers of all races. Such behavior often leads to absurdly long sentences for acts that if committed by white teenagers, more often result in little or no jail time. How many successful white adults were offered second (or third) chances after committing similar acts? Look back a few years to the story of the fire bombing of the Sheriff’s substation in Isla Vista.

What if it were called a terrorist attack by one of the “street terrorist” gang members? I suppose that such a perpetrator would be tried and sentenced to at least 30 years, if not to life.

What if it were attempted murder, or arson of an inhabited building? A long sentence would result, with “gang enhancements” under the “Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act.”

Where was the outcry when the self-confessed perpetrator turned out to be a middle-class white youth who was released without bail, given no prison time (only two years in the County Jail — unknown if fully served). I didn’t read or hear of any complaint about the leniency shown the defendant.

When I first read of Flores’s arrest, I assumed that others in the Police Department were in on the take. Without anyone else knowing, or helping in the cover-up, for $700,000 to disappear defied belief. However, the alternative is even more appalling: an out-of-control department where no one, from the chief on down, appears to take responsibility for anything. One would expect resignations from the top down for gross mismanagement and incompetence, for failure to implement or enforce even the most rudimentary financial controls. But, as in the Peter Lance case (to name one among many), there appear to be few if any consequences for gross incompetence, for misconduct, or even for criminal acts by higher-ups and favored uniformed officers. No public outcry, no serious investigations.

This is symptomatic of a larger problem: a culture that tolerates elected officials and the executives they appoint focusing on career enhancement through service to the tourism, real estate, and development industries at the expense of justice and transparency. One serious consequence is a decline in the well-being of middle- and lower-income renters. But even more serious is the exploitation of the working-class minority population to provide “criminals” to justify our bloated criminal justice system along with the revenue to fund it through a regressive taxation system built on fines and fees.



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