H-CENTRAL COAST

Aug 2, 2011 9:14 PM by Ariel Wesler

Study: Violent crime does not drive state prison incarcerations

New research from Santa Clara University shows the violent crime rate in different counties does not determine how many people they send to state prison.

Criminal Justice Law Professor W. David Ball published a study called "Tough on Crime (On the State's Dime)". The study found just a third of the state's counties send the majority of people to prison. At the same time, they have violent crime rates below the state average.

Santa Barbara County is one of the areas highlighted in the study.

This is becoming a bigger issue as Governor Jerry Brown tries to deal with prison overcrowding by the shifting the burden to the counties beginning in October. Professor ball questions whether you should have to pay for what he calls "Prison Happy" counties. We spoke with him via Skype.

It seems pretty logical, counties in California with more violent crime would be sending more people to prison, but a new study finds that's not the case.

"In fact, the group of counties that uses prison at the highest rates actually has violent crime rates below the state average," said Prof. Ball.

Santa Barbara and Monterey counties have almost identical populations, but Monterey has more violent crime The study, which looks at data from 2000-2009, shows 9 out of 10 years Santa Barbara sent more people to prison.

"When you look at its violent crime rate, you say, 'wow they are using little prison now,' but they should be using even less," Ball said.

"I do not believe that we are sending too many people to prison. We make sure we are looking at each individual and doing what's just and appropriate in the light of public safety," said Ann Bramsen, Santa Barbara Chief Assistant District Attorney.

She says these days most non violent criminals no longer see prison time.

"Ten years ago, if you had a DUI with a prior, you would have gone to jail. In our current environment, you're much more likely to get alternative sentencing," Bramsen said.

Ball says the state's limited resources should be reserved for counties with the highest number of violent crimes.

"When you have a low violent crime problem, you need to send us less of your offenders."

He says if more aggressive counties want to send non-violent criminals to prison, then they should have to foot the bill.

"I don't live in other counties, so I don't feel like I should pay for them," Ball said.

"I don't believe our county can afford anymore financial burden," Bramsen said.

Ball says the counties prosecute differently, depending on where you live and your counties crime-fighting philosophies. You may go to prison in one county and not in another.

The professor says counties should be able to make their own policies, but they should also be held accountable for the consequences.

The study also compared Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties. Both have similar populations, but although Santa Cruz has more crime, the report found that 9 out of 10 years, San Luis Obispo County still sent more people to prison.

If you'd like to take a look at the entire study, just click here.

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