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by Gil Friedman
Thursday, Jul. 22, 2004 at 7:38 AM
Too many lockups lead to service lockouts
Recently, the Arcata Branch library opened after a 10-day "lockout." Arcata wasn't picked on; each and every library in the county will be closed one week a quarter and reduce weekly hours due to the severe financial budget crises. The library is to be commended for keeping all of the libraries going with everyone sharing this crisis. Nor is the library the only system hurting in Humboldt County. Every agency from fire to home care to the Sheriff's Department to recreational activities are all taking serious cuts. Nor is Humboldt County the only county facing a financial crisis. Virtually every county and city in the state is in one. The reason is that the state, because of its own financial crises, is giving less and less to the counties. Part of the reason the state is broke is that it has certain programs that are tying up considerable resources.
One of these programs is our state prison system. It is one of the few state agencies that continue to grow while schools and other agencies continue to have their funds slashed. While Gov. Davis was in office he was figuratively under house arrest by the Prison Guard Union that was his greatest financial supporter. One of the ways we have to tame the out-of- control prison growth is to give the judges back the right to judge and stop these mandatory minimum sentences, especially in the area of drug violations. What these drug users need is therapy and rehabilitation, not being locked up for 10, 20 or more years under the mandatory minimum sentences. Under these laws, judges are more like file clerks with no discretion and the district attorneys have all the power by their decision on what they decide to charge the defendant.
If the public thinks they can throw violators of the law in prison and forget the key with minimum mandatory sentences and our Three Strikes Law, trying juveniles as adults and then giving 15- and 16-year-olds 25-, 35- and 50-year sentences -- virtually lifetime sentences, with gang-enhancement laws in which any person who is in any way accused of being associated with a gang gets another 15 years added to their sentence -- the public will find that they will pay for this by receiving less services at the state, county and city levels. These cuts will not merely go into the bones of the programs, but into their very marrow.
Many studies have shown that as people age they stop committing crimes, yet many of them go through middle age and even their golden years incarcerated in our prisons. This costs us taxpayers many millions that could be much better spent keeping our libraries open and giving more funds to our fire departments to protect our homes.
A start to correct this situation is to vote yes on Proposition 66 in the November election that amends the Three Strikes Law to require severe sentences only when the current conviction is for specified violent or serious felonies.
I also urge, as I have done, people to write Assemblywoman Patty Berg and State Sen. Wes Chesbro to introduce legislation eliminating all mandatory minimum sentences for all crimes and letting judges go back to what we pay them for -- to make judgments on the individual cases. And on the federal level, we should urge our Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Mike Thompson to sponsor legislation to eliminate all mandatory minimum sentences. If enough of us contact our representatives maybe we can start the ball rolling towards reform, and perhaps one day we will have no more "lockouts" of our libraries.
Gil Friedman is a local attorney and author. He lives in Arcata.
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