No reprieve


By G.W. Schulz

The most recent newsletter from the Tenderloin police station shows yet again what has been one of California’s worst criminal-justice problems – recidivism.

California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country, an ongoing crisis that has remained a vexing political issue for the governator. We love putting people behind bars over and over again, and nowhere in San Francisco is that more startlingly clear than in the Tenderloin, which alone boasted 4,200 arrests last year, the highest in the city. Of the over 20 arrests that took place in the district between Dec. 15 and Dec. 21, almost every single one of them involved both drugs and repeat offenders.

On Dec. 15, a crack offense and a probation violation. Again, on Dec. 15, an arrest for two outstanding warrants. On Dec. 16, outstanding warrants (officers knew the subject through old narcotics busts). That same day, crack and a probation violation (the probation stemmed from a previous crack bust). Dec. 17, outstanding warrant. Again, on that day, crack and an outstanding warrant. On Dec. 18, oxycodone, morphine, codeine and more outstanding arrest warrants. Again that day, crack, probation and parole violations. On it went throughout the week.

Two days ago, the Los Angeles Times published an investigation into that city’s revolving jailhouse doors. Since 2000, the number of people booked two or more times into the county jail jumped 73 percent clearing 61,000 arrests last year, according to the paper’s own analysis. Repeat offenders make up nearly half the bookings.

Clearly, something’s not working. Go on probation. Fail to pay a fine. Go back to jail. Go on parole. Fail to pay a fine, because employers don’t like criminal records and your options are limited. Go back to jail. More fines. More jail time. Suddenly, beat cops know repeat offenders better than they know their own families.

According to the Times:

“Once booked, defendants enter a justice system whose resources have not kept pace with demand, even as crime has dropped in recent years. There are not enough prosecutors to try them. There are not enough courts to sentence them. There are not enough jail or prison beds to house them. And there is not enough treatment to help them.”

Repeat, crime rates have dropped in recent years, but still the gubernator has proposed shipping inmates to other states to ease prison overpopulation, which plagues the state. Across California, the recidivism rate for drug offenders is close to 50 percent. It doesn't matter if we're actually safer. It doesn't matter if we even feel safer. The politics of law & order will always ensure the state's jails are overflowing.

To be fair, district attorney Kamala Harris insists that up to July, of the 150 participants in her “Back on Track” program, only two have been re-arrested. But the principles of programs like “Back on Track” need to be taken much more seriously if the arrest rate in the Tenderloin alone is 2,400 in a single year.

In related news, the Times also reported this week that Afghan heroin is quickly expanding in the United States, and the shit is very pure. So pure, in fact, that’s it’s killing at an alarming rate – a 75 percent increase in heroin-related deaths in three years for L.A. County since the war on abstracts broke out in 2001.

Despite DEA records obtained by the Times that clearly show Afghan heroin making its way into the United States, a spokesman vociferously denied there was any increase. Um, yeah. Sometimes its amazing to watch the lengths a press flak will go to deny a story.

So what does this all mean for the tragically addicted? It means death or jail. Wanna know the greatest irony of all this? Federal health officials have only recently begun to embrace the notion that drug addiction is a mental-health issue and should not be treated with handcuffs. But the DEA is and always will be a law-enforcement agency trained in handling guns and wiretaps. Two massive federal bureaucracies working almost completely at odds with one another.

From the Times story:

“According to a Drug Enforcement Administration report obtained by the Times, Afghanistan’s poppy fields have become the fastest-growing source of heroin in the United States. Its share of the U.S. market doubled from 7% in 2001, the year U.S. forces overthrew the Taliban, to 14% in 2004, the last year studied. Another DEA report, released in October, said the 14% actually could be significantly higher.”

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