The News Site of Fresno City College

The Rampage Online

The News Site of Fresno City College

The Rampage Online

The News Site of Fresno City College

The Rampage Online

Should non-violent offenders be released to save money?

Pro by Laura Bradley

Crime in Fresno County tends to be higher than in most of California. Typical offenses include murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, just to name a few. We have always had the police force to help keep us safe and take the criminals off the streets and locked away. But in these desolate economic times, governments must choose options that are not always popular.  

Recently, Fresno County Sheriff, Margaret Mimms, was forced to lay off 69 correctional officers due to a $4 million deficit.  Additionally, the Federal Court ruled that as a result of over-crowding, Fresno County jails should release up to 500 non-violent offenders. These releases are different than early releases that are done when the jail is simply full, and someone deemed “low risk” is let out to make room for more violent offenders. These newly released inmates are people who, in the eyes of the law, have served their time.

With the number of jail inmates increasing each day, the County of Fresno must decide whether to continue to pour scarce resources into expanding jail services or use it in more useful ways. While some might argue the county should just build more jails, the issue is more complex.

Releasing non-violent inmates is not a bad idea, especially when they have not committed serious crimes. We must be willing to consider alternatives to jail, such as psychological treatment centers where offenders are conditioned against criminal acts. They can be trained to obey the rules, take advantage of educational opportunities, or participate in a work programs.

While no one likes the idea of repeat offenders running about, the fact is that those being released are not as much of a threat as the people going into the jail. Serious and violent offenders are kept behind bars and locked away despite this deficit, and Sheriff Margaret Mimms is making sure of that.

The release of inmates also serves to reduce the workload of parole officers by allowing them to focus mainly on the most violent offenders, the people we need off the streets more than ever. Guards and jail workers are better able to focus on the inmates and give them the help they desperately need

Our jails can be a place where rehabilitation starts for inmates. Do we really want to place criminals in a place where they are just going to learn better methods of committing crime? Releasing offenders seems a far more efficient means of maintaining a functioning jail, while keeping the streets of Fresno safe at the same time.

The idea of releasing inmates is not an entirely new idea. There are such devices as ankle monitors, most commonly used in house arrest programs to track offenders and parole, so there are already offenders walking amongst us.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mimms said, “Once we reach that target capacity of just over 1700, we have to stay there, so the release will continue until we get the funding to staff more floors of the jail.” It may not be the easiest of transitions, but it in the end, we will be better for it.  We will be devoting scarce resources to where they are needed, not to keeping people locked up.

 

Con by Sebouh Simonian

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” This saying has been around for a while but it no longer holds true, at least not for many convicted criminals in Fresno County.

The whole state and in reality the whole country are in the middle of a huge financial mess, and cuts are being made to everything from education to road work and yes, even law enforcement.

In the last few months there has been a major impact on Fresno county law enforcement that has led to the closing of an entire floor of the county’s jail in Downtown Fresno, the early release of hundreds of prisoners in the jail, and the termination of the jobs of correction officers.

This was a step necessary because of budget cuts due to an $3.9 million deficit in the county according to Fresno County Sheriff, Margaret Mimms.

This action has led to the release of so-called low-risk offenders; such as those arrested on drug possession, probation violation, and disorderly conduct.

This move has been strongly opposed by members of the SEIU union which represents many of the correctional officers. They claim this action puts the public at risk.

Officer Robert Capps said, “We feel that releas­ing these felony inmates puts the community’s safety in jeop­ardy.”

Mimms defended this action by saying it will help deputies on the streets respond to crimes. She said, “We only have just a lit­tle over 200 Deputy Sheriffs county wide.”

According to the Fresno Bee, one in five of the prisoners released early from Fresno County return.

Early release can send the message to criminals that even if they get caught, they could end up doing less time due to budget problems and over-crowding.

One case involved Burnell Simmons, a man who had been released six times from county jail because of over-crowding and budget cuts. Simmons recently admitted to committing at least 40 home invasions.

Another early release gone bad in Fresno County, is the story of early parolee, Saul Rojas, who along with another man, is suspected of shooting and killing 26 year-old Edgar Campos back in June of this year.

Those are just a few examples of local criminals released early because of the budget, who are suspected of committing new crimes after being released.

Releasing prisoners early is not a good idea, since some will re-offend and many have committed more serious crimes but have either not been caught or had it pleaded down to a lesser charge.

Keeping citizens in the county safe should be one of the highest priorities, and these kinds of releases should be an absolute last resort. Before this step is taken, all other options should be seriously considered.

There are ways to avoid early release, such as closing the county crime lab and using the state’s which could lead to an estimated savings of $1 million a year.

Another possible option here in Fresno County would be the creation of a special tax, similar to Measure C from a few years ago, which would be used solely for funding prisons and keeping them open,

There are other things that could be cut or scaled back which are much less important than keeping prisoners off the street.

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