Penalty Reduction Controversies Continue

In Santa Barbara County, Robberies Increase, But Burglaries Decrease

Santa Barbara County Jail (April 2012)
Paul Wellman

As California voters continue to support criminal-justice reforms, the dispute about the impact of state laws to allow some nonviolent criminals out of jail earlier remains in full throttle. Last week Santa Barbara city cops, for instance, partially blamed Proposition 47 for the fact that car burglaries have doubled in two years since Californians handily passed the law. Law enforcement claims the law prohibits them from using “the stick” ​— ​prison time and a felony strike ​— ​to dissuade chronic offenders from breaking the law.

But proponents argue that Prop. 47 is one of multiple laws to release inmates who do not absolutely need to be in jail. A recent study analyzing data at the county level found counties that released the most inmates saw a wide disparity in crime trends. The same was true for counties that released the fewest. Santa Barbara County’s jail facility population decreased by 6.1 persons per 100,000 population at the same time violent crimes and robbery increased by 4 and 5 percent, respectively. But burglary decreased by 12 percent. Tanja Heitman, deputy chief probation officer, said it is too soon to “establish a causal relationship” at the county level.

Thus far, more than 2,600 individuals with prior drug or theft felonies have petitioned to have the charges reduced to misdemeanors. This fall, the Public Defender’s Office ​— ​with the help of a $500 contribution from Supervisor Janet Wolf ​— ​and others produced and distributed pamphlets in English and Spanish to publicize the petition process. Two months ago, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law to extend the deadline to submit a petition until 2022 (initially it was November 2017).

Last month, a workgroup of county officials convened to apply for state resources for treatments for defendants eligible for Prop. 47. The programs include mental-health services, substance-use-disorder treatment, and other diversion programs.


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