In 2004, the average inmate population at the west side jail was around 2,000 on any given day (ABQ Journal - Subscription). According to jail officials the jail is now running at 122% of capacity or around 2,440 inmates. To us that means that the police are doing their jobs. By putting criminals in jail they protect the rest of us... end of story.
Unfortunately judges have traditionally taken a dim view of jails that are overcrowded. That's understandable to a certain point, but jails and prisons shouldn't be country clubs either. In our opinion, they should be a place that guests should want to do just about anything to stay out of. But we digress...
The result is that county officials are caught between population growth, the state who won't take charge of prisoners unless they serve over 364 days, judges who often gerrymander sentences to keep offenders out of the state "big house," and rising health care costs that the county is responsible to provide its inmates.
In typical bureaucratic fashion, the solution being proposed is not to build more jails to keep the rest of us safe, but to change what is actually a crime in to a "civil" offense (ABQ Tribune). We agree with former Chief Metro Court Judge William Lang when he says, "It never made sense to me that someone who didn't get their dog neutered ended up in jail." (With the possible exception of The Mayer's (a.k.a. Sally Mayer) HEART ordinance, which should have landed her in jail.)
Unfortunately when a law is decriminalized like say uh... running red lights, due process rights go out the window along with an impartial judge. The accused stands in front of an administrative lackey who presumes you are guilty. (Reminds us of the old joke... "We'll give you a first class trial, followed by a right proper hangin.'") Cities and Counties LOVE the idea because along with (allegedly) solving their overcrowding issues they get to keep all of the money.
The Mayer proposed just this type of decriminalization last year. Thankfully the idea was euthanized this past May. However, today's Tribune story threatens to revive the idea under the banner of relieving overcrowding. Bernalillo County's Public Safety Director John Dantis is in favor of the idea.
Dantis is pushing the traffic tickets measure as a way for at least 3,600 people a year to avoid jail for minor traffic offenses, including improper lane changes, failing to yield, some speeding violations and not paying tickets or not showing up in court for such offenses.Like guilt, sentencing on minor offenses should be determined by a judge. Legislatures should determine sentencing guidelines that fit the nature of the crime and take in to consideration the danger posed by the offender to the general public. In other words, jail time should continue to be an option for judges, which means that the offenses must continue to be criminal in nature. Further, it is imperative that the accused be tried before an impartial third party... a judge that is not employed by the same party as the prosecution.
If the Legislature wishes to act to reduce sentences for those proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to reduce jail overcrowding, let them risk the ire of their collective constituents. It simply makes no sense to find out that all of those criminal acts that people have been prosecuted for in the past aren't crimes after all, just so we can reduce inmate population and make a little additional money on the side.