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COMMENTARY: San Benito County incarceration rate higher than California, and nation in most cases

With 5 percent of the world’s population but more than a quarter of the world's prisoner population, the U.S. needs to seek enlightened policies to address social problems without an intense reliance on prison and over-policing
In a recently-released report entitled “Incarceration’s Front Door:The Misuse of Jails in America,” the Vera Institute of Justice in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation, chronicled the high social cost of the misuse of local jails. The study finds that in a nation growing ever-safer – violent crime is down 49 percent and property crime down as well by 44 percent from its peak in 1996 - admissions to local jails have nearly doubled - from 6 million to 11.7 million. Moreover, according to the report more individuals are spending more time behind bars for nonviolent crimes. The report also cites the disproportionate incarceration in particular communities. The building and expansion of prisons and detention centers has presented local governments with a “monetary resource pool” to address losses in revenue and deficits on the backs of the poor, elderly, unaccompanied children and undocumented immigrants - disproportionately distressing communities of color. African Americans are jailed at four times the rate of whites, while making up 13 percent of the national population. Latinos in New York City are jailed five time that of whites. Moreover, and according to the Vera report, San Benito County (SBC) incarcerates Latinos, African Americans, females and Asian/Pacific Islanders disproportionately and at higher rates, in most cases, than California and the United States. Latinos in SBC are incarcerated at 375.6 per 100,000, a rate higher than California (348.7), and nationally at 319.4. African Americans in SBC are incarcerated at 678.7 per 100,000, whereas the rate in California is 1091.9, while nationally it is 899.0. Female incarcerations in SBC are just as inequitable at 120.1 per 100,000, compared to California 92.5 and nationally 101.3. Asian/Pacific Islanders have one of the more surprising incarceration rates in SBC 159.6 per 100,000, compared to California at 51.0 and nationally 54.0. While the average incarceration rate among the 40 largest counties in 2014 and according to the report was 271 per 100,000 residents, the full range of rates spans Philadelphia at 810 per 100,000 and San Bernardino County, California at 477 per 100,000 at the high end. In all categories, San Benito County surpasses both California and the nation, with the exception of African Americans. That’s largely due to the fact that African Americans make up 1.3% of SBC’s population. Most shocking, however, and according to the Vera report and not that surprising, is that 3 out of 5 individuals have not been convicted of any crime, but held due to their inability to post bail (due to poverty). While three-quarters, or 75 percent, are incarcerated mostly for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public disorder offenses. Indifferent to the causes, policy makers have been legally challenged over “cruel and unusual punishment” charges or became aware of the all-too-expensive and high human toll such public policies have on ALL communities. These nonviolent offenses are mostly health and economically linked - substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, homelessness and school achievement - which are not seriously considered or explained away by blaming the victim. At the same time, policy makers foolishly and recklessly choose spending precious tax dollars on over-policing and incarceration policies as unsustainable solutions. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on which the United States is a signatory, sets out a number of fundamental human rights to be universally protected. They include, among other important rights, the abolishment of arbitrary arrest, detention, deprivation of nationality, immigrant rights, homelessness, affordable housing, rights of indigenous peoples, LGBTQ, workers, prisoners, disability rights, impoverishment of families, women, children, and people of color. Under the U.S. Constitution, all international treaties become the “supreme law of the land” when signed by the president and ratified by a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate, with a legally-enforceable obligation. State spending priorities favoring punishment and incarceration for minor crimes, and fostering the militarization of the police over humane safety-net social spending, is contrary to the responsibilities and obligations we have under the United Nations Human Rights Treaty. The increasing criminalization of non-violent behavior and incarceration of whole segments of minority targeted populations; increased duration of prison sentences - mandatory minimums - “tough on crime” policy, and racial targeted profiling, with enhanced surveillance are racially- and class-targeted policies.
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Luis Burguillo (An Engaged and ...)

As a student of the media and journalism, I am interested in utilizing the medium in order to assure that the residents of the City of Hollister and San Benito County are alerted, informed and educated on the official actions of their elected officials who are sworn to preserve, protect and defend the US constitution and Bill of Rights. More importantly, their engagement in the political process will hold the leaders accountable for their actions/decisions and lead to an improved governance.


This commentary doesn't make sense, nor does it offer statistical accuracy to define racial profiling or so-called 'minority targeted populations' when, in fact, Latinos are a statistical majority in this community.  But the author gets credit for consistently barking up the wrong tree with anti-law enforcement narratives.

The goal of Hollister PD under the leadership of Chief Westrick is to improve and enhance 'community policing' by providing youth healthy recreational activities integrated with components of literacy. If kids are engaged, educated and familiar with the police - because they were coached or supervised by police officers through a community recreation program - then, hopefully, crime will go down. 

The goal of the San Benito County Superior Court under the leadership of Judge Sanders is to curtail youth crime such as truancy which leads to other criminal behavior through court mandated parent-education programs that promote literacy.

So the operative word here is literacy and the goal is to get families to parent kids who are involved in community recreation programs and literacy programs that teach kids the difference between right and wrong and strive to learn positive, respectful behavior towards others in their community; thus reducing crime.

As for the tired mantra decrying the evils of enhanced surveillance systems, I think this is just silly. Video cameras are everywhere these days and the police are welcome and encouraged to use them to solve crimes.  They did just that at the recent commercial burglary at Los Cuates Meat Market on San Felipe Road which led to the arrest of two suspects. (Great job, Hollister PD!). The police reviewed store surveillance video camera records and recognized two potential suspects who are now subject to due process in the legal system. 

Maybe the reason San Benito County has a higher incarceration rate than cities like San Jose is because they actually dispatch officers to 911 calls when a crime is being committed. San Jose police won't dispatch officers to crime scenes because they don't have the resources unless a violent crime is being reported. Thus, local law enforcement could actually being doing a superior job compared with San Jose police investigating and arresting criminals who are subsequently prosecuted for their crimes which is what taxpayers deserve. 



The basic premise of the article was "With 5 percent of the world’s population but more than a quarter of the world's prisoner population, the U.S. needs to seek enlightened policies to address social problems without an intense reliance on prison and over-policing."

Fact checking the front portion of that statement shows that it is approximately correct for nations where we have data.  That leaves out many people (such as China) where the regimes does not supply figures.  The actual numbers are approximate, we have about 4.4 percent of the world's population and about 22 percent of the officially incarcerated prisoners which is pretty close.

 The back potion "the U.S. needs to seek enlightened policies to address social problems without an intense reliance on prison and over-policing" is obviously opinion, but worth talking about. 

In my opinion this cannot be 'over-policing' (whatever that is) since these are figures on incarceration, most people counted have been convicted, the police do not convict anyone.  However, I believe a good argument can be made that our system does NOT work well from sentencing to incarceration, to rehabilitation to parole and release for certain offenses. Then you have to add cost which is anything but incidental.

As far as the statistics claimed for local 'minorities' I have not been able to verify them yet, but it does not matter as a standalone number, correlation is not cause and effect.  In other words poverty may breed crime and if more minorities live in poverty they may commit more crimes and therefore it results in more incarcerations.

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong - H. L. Mencken

Marty Richman

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