Government / Politics

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.

Luis Burguillo

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.