Opinion: Santa Clara County must end catch-and-release criminal justice policies
Why is the county continually re-releasing individuals who persist in committing serious criminal offenses?
BY: Matt Mahan
Violent crime is rising in San Jose and, according to Santa Clara County’s own data, nearly 50% of individuals arrested in our county who are released before their trials violate the terms of their release by reoffending or failing to appear in court.
According to San Jose police, between January 2020 and April 2022 they arrested 43 individuals who went on to be arrested 10 or more times each. The top offender is accused of committing 34 or more crimes during this 28-month period.
In short, there are now hundreds of victims of crime who have the right to ask their County government why it is continually re-releasing individuals who persist in committing serious criminal offenses.
While there has recently been a small step in the right direction from our local courts, which have decided to let the “zero bail” COVID-19 policies lapse, a majority of the County Board of Supervisors continues to support policies that see even serious offenders released after they have violated the terms of their release.
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Now Supervisor Cindy Chavez is telling The Mercury News that the work of City of San Jose elected officials to change Santa Clara County’s policy of depopulating the County jails is “smoke being pushed into the air” to “divert our attention from the parts of the system that are broken.”
Supervisor Chavez is dangerously wrong about the efforts of San Jose elected officials, who are simply asking the County to require those who repeatedly reoffend to face consequences. And the damage caused by the County’s policies are being felt both by the people of San Jose and the people in the criminal justice system.
As early as 2018 the Board of Supervisors was working to depopulate the county jail, an effort that accelerated with COVID-19. A majority of the Board has continued to support depopulating the jail beyond the pandemic emergency period, despite the obvious perils to public safety in San Jose.
During the height of the pandemic and before vaccines were available there was at least an argument for reducing our jail population. But well after the worst of the pandemic emergency has passed, the County government’s overall jail depopulation strategy has still remained unchanged.
It is time to change it now. Instead of deflecting the efforts of San Jose officials to end the “catch and release” policies of the County, the Board of Supervisors should embrace them.
The Board should change its policies both because it will make us all safer – and because it helps those in the criminal justice system. Accountability is good for everyone. A system that does not hold those who commit crimes accountable for their actions is not just bad for our residents, it is also damaging to those in the criminal justice system. Because it is exactly the possibility of consequences that law enforcement, the courts, and our society can use as leverage to direct people to get the help they need.
It is absolutely correct that our criminal justice system is broken – and the County should hold everyone, including itself, accountable for that failure. Under our current system it is the responsibility of the County to provide mental health services along with the bulk of the other services that help keep people on the right track. Our County has found funds for bonuses for top bureaucrats, funds to hire a political associate to write a book on their success, even funds for valet parking for their staff. They have not found the funds to build the kind of secure mental health hospital that would dramatically reduce our jail population and put those who need treatment into such secure treatment, not jail.
It’s time to demand basic accountability – and simple common sense. The Board of Supervisors must act in the interest of safety and sanity to end their “catch and release” policy for those accused of serious and violent crimes and for those who are repeatedly violating the terms of their release.
Matt Mahan represents District 10 on the San Jose City Council and is a candidate for mayor.
This article was originally posted in the San Jose Mercury News.