Sheriff Brown’s Bogus Boondoggle: The Fraud and the Force

Last Christmas, the Milpas Community Association (MCA) sponsored the Eastside Christmas Parade as part of its Eastside Business Improvement District (EBID) campaign to promote and beautify this predominately Latino Santa Barbara neighborhood.

One of the notable features of the parade was an old-fashioned paddy wagon driven by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff. An effigy of the Grinch languished in the back of the wagon as the Sheriff waved and smiled at the throngs of mostly Mexican parade-goers lining Milpas Street. When you consider that the greater portion of the county’s prison population is Latino, one has little to wonder at the Sheriff’s ear-to-ear grin for his future constituents at the parade.

But this little bit of Keystone Kops slapstick speaks volumes to Santa Barbara’s plutocracy which does not disguise its social engineering efforts in the city’s Latino communities on the Eastside and the Westside. When you recall that the defeated gang injunction was a racial profiling scam promoted by the MCA and its cronies in city hall, it is clear that these wanna-be oligarchs continue to take great interest in Mexican-owned real estate. Deceptive measures designed to produce the same results as the injunction are obviously at play in the MCA’s latest campaign to make the Eastside “clean” and “secure” under the terms of the EBID (fraud) coupled with Sheriff Brown’s relentless drive to build more jails and detention centers (force).

For this reason, it is worth taking a closer look at Sheriff Brown’s proposed North County jail.

Of all the Sheriff’s many arguments for the new jail, his most egregious is his insistence that the current county jail is overcrowded. Sheriff Brown has maintained that prison “infrastructure has not kept pace with the increasing population in our county….” (http://www.santamariasun.com/news/11576/santa-barbara-county-sheriff-incumbent-bill-brown-talks-about-the-north-county-jail-budget-cuts-and-more/).

But a closer look at the Sheriff’s prison population in March reveals that 74% of them were pretrial detainees. (http://www.noozhawk.com/article/santa_barbara_county_struggles_to_quantify_prop_47_impacts_20150308).

In fact, Santa Barbara County has one of the highest rates of pretrial detainment in California, with about 3 in 4 inmates imprisoned pretrial.   They have been unconstitutionally detained for no other reason than THEY COULD NOT AFFORD TO POST BAIL. That means that pretrial detainees can sit awaiting trial for months even though the majority are held for petty offenses that in earlier times would have seen their release under their own recognizance.

By holding so many unconvicted, low-risk defendants in County lockup, Sheriff Brown has artificially inflated his prison population with pretrial detainees in order to lend credence to his bogus arguments for another jail.

How exactly are these pretrial defendants suffering from the violation of their constitutional rights by the good Sheriff’s practices? Keep in mind that the 8th amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” in prison.

Not too long ago, moderate bail for minor infractions was the norm because the idea of preventing “the infliction of punishment prior to conviction” (http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment8/annotation01.html) made good common sense. The only reason to detain anyone pretrial was if they posed an imminent threat to someone else or seemed likely to skip their court date. Such were the halcyon days of innocent until proven guilty.

But that was before the modern bail bond boom, a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry with an army of bondsmen and surety agents charging usurious interest rates to the incarcerated. Taken along with its affiliated franchises in penal labor, indefinite probation, for-profit prisons, and privatized correctional services, the prison industrial complex has achieved such gargantuan proportions that the United States now incarcerates more people than any other country in the world.

Unsurprisingly, many are low-income Black- and Brown-skinned Americans. According to the NAACP, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008 even though they make up about one quarter of the U.S. population.

Unfortunately, Santa Barbara County is rapidly becoming like the most oppressive areas of the country where police target low-income minorities for discriminatory tickets such as in Ferguson, Missouri. Local police have gained notoriety for engaging in the selective vehicle impoundments of low-income Latino residents. According to the Santa Barbara Independent, from June 2011 through June 2012, the police department issued over 1,000 unlicensed driver citations in what was rumored to be racially motivated ticketing on the Westside. (http://www.independent.com/news/2012/oct/04/no-license-drive/).

And in these times of greater job precarity, almost any bail is excessively cruel for the working poor. They suffer the most in such a harsh system for upon release they may discover that they have lost their jobs, their homes, and in some cases even their families.

Studies show that pretrial defendants are disproportionately more likely to be sentenced to prison than inmates out on bail, with rates three times higher than the average (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/06/bail-bond-prison-industry).

This is due largely to their inability to defend themselves from behind bars and the fact that they more often take plea bargains, another court scam that targets the poor with inadequate public defense in the name of reducing caseloads. Adding insult to injury, pretrial detainees are subject to pay-to-stay prison scams that further penalize them by charging them for necessities like food, bedding, toiletries, medical, and communications.

There can be little doubt that the working poor suffer disproportionately under a system of false imprisonment that is euphemistically called pretrial detention. Though Santa Barbarans voted twice against the Sheriffs prison expansion proposal, the Sheriff successfully garnered state grants to go ahead with his project.

More recently, California voters passed Proposition 47 in order to decrease the numbers of prisoners by reducing non-violent offenses to misdemeanors. The hope was to reduce prison overcrowding and pass the savings on to social services like education and mental health care. Obviously there is a prison reform movement afoot that seeks to turn back the trend toward allowing prisons to become the social service providers of last resort.

Sheriff Brown should heed this hope.