Sure glad I didn’t step in it

Sometimes you don’t have to go to Burger King to get fed a
whopper. Sometimes the County Supervisors’ chambers will do just
fine. I was only half paying attention last week when I heard
Sheriff Jim Anderson announce that jail overcrowding had gotten so
bad, his jailers were forced to release an inmate being held on $1
million bail. Typically, those held on this amount comprise an
elite club whose membership is reserved for the baddest of the bad.
Typically, it means you killed somebody, and not just in a fit of
pique. This was the sort of explosive revelation engineered to
penetrate the torpor of anybody’s lassitude. Certainly it got my
attention. But then mysteriously, Sheriff Jim just moved on to his
next point. No gory details were provided, no explanation offered.
Amazingly not one of the supervisors asked any questions. Anderson
dropped this bombshell to buttress arguments that he needed—and
deserved—nearly half of the $8 million the county had just received
from the state as a one-time windfall. That’s a lot of money for
which there’s intense competition. The sheriff asked the
supervisors to give him $3 million plus change to buy the old
Laguna Sanitation District property just outside of Orcutt, where
he hoped to build a desperately needed North County jail. (That’s
just to buy the land. The jail will cost several hundred million
dollars to construct, and even more to operate. Where that money
will come from, no one really knows.)

To his credit, Sheriff Anderson used the term “North County
jail” despite 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray’s strongly stated
aversion to the phrase. She said it reflected poorly on North
County residents, as if they somehow needed jailing more than other
county residents. In point of fact, they do. It turns out 55
percent of the people locked behind county bars hail from the North
County. Where this north-south thing is concerned, I suspect
Supervisor Gray is suffering from a serious psychological disorder.
I say this because during the same meeting, Gray accused South
County residents of thinking they’re smarter than people who live
in the north, and she was plenty steamed about it. This is so
untrue. People in the south think they’re smarter and better than
everybody. While Joni is busy nursing her regional grudges, she
might consider who will pay for the new North County jail if the
much-heralded county split were to pass next year. The Chumash
Casino, which is now plastering its promo stickers on the sheriff’s
helicopter and search-and-rescue vehicles? Ty Warner? It sure won’t
be the property taxes collected in the south, where most of the
county’s revenues come from.

But the sheriff got me curious. Who was this million-dollar
bailer? What dastardly crimes did he commit? And what reign of
terror was he about to unleash upon the good citizens of Gotham
because of inadequate detention facilities? It took a while to find
out, but his name is Jorge Cisneros, he lives in Santa Maria, and
he just turned 22. According to Santa Maria Police Lt. Larry
Ralston, Cisneros was apprehended by authorities on August 25 for
stealing tires off a car, presumably while it was not moving. This
is a misdemeanor, by the way. He was also charged for giving the
cops a false name. And it turns out he had a few outstanding
warrants for other misdemeanor offenses for which he was a no-show.
They involved drunk driving, a hit-and-run, and an assault. Ralston
was not familiar with the details. The most glaring fact about all
the charges leveled against Mr. Cisneros is the conspicuous absence
of any felonies. And for this, a $1 million bail? What gives?

Sheriff spokesperson Sgt. Erik Raney speculated that Cisneros
may have been involved in a drug-diversion program overseen by
Judge Rogelio Flores, who imposed the million-dollar bail in the
first place. It turns out that the sheriff and the judges have been
playing a game of cat-and-mouse with those sentenced to diversion
programs. When divertees screw up—as they frequently do—judges like
to toss them into the hoosegow to get their attention. But the
sheriff, lacking any spare broom-closet space into which they can
be stuffed, releases them to the streets. The judges respond by
imposing ridiculously disproportionate bails designed to intimidate
the jailers into keeping these offenders locked up. The fact is,
things have gotten seriously tight in the jails. Ralston explained
that he and other law enforcement officials around the county just
got a letter from the sheriff saying the county jail would no
longer accept anyone charged with anything less than a felony
except in certain instances, such as wife beating and drunk
driving. As with UCSB, the admissions requirements are getting
tougher. It’s hardly a new problem; judges and jailers have been
grappling with this since the late ’70s. It’s just getting worse.
Part of the problem is more people. Part of it is more laws. And
part is stiffer sentences. I doubt there’s a politician alive who
lost for being too tough on crime. As a result, America now boasts
a prison population of 2.3 million, and Santa Barbara County is
doing its part.

As to our million-dollar bailer Mr. Cisneros, the story is far
more complicated than Sheriff Anderson indicated. Cisneros, it
turns out, was not flattered by his high bail amount. He petitioned
the courts for a reduced amount and won. In fact, he got his bail
reduced all the way down to $10,000. So in fact, the sheriff did
not “release” a million-dollar bailer. And as for the alleged
“release,” that’s bogus too. In fact, Mr. Cisneros still sits in
the Santa Barbara jail and will stay there for some time. Because
there are issues regarding Cisneros’s citizenship, the sheriff
released him to the Department of Homeland Security, which took
over where the Department of Immigration and Naturalization
Services (INS) left off. Until the INS decides what to do with
Cisneros, he remains exactly where he is. Technically, he’s under
their jurisdiction. Physically, he remains in the county jail.

All I can say is, it’s a good thing for the sheriff that I like
whoppers. But next time he wants to serve one up, maybe he should
put less musta


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