In 1956, with freakishly-ironic prescience, Philip K. Dick wrote:

As they walked along the busy, yellow-lit tiers of offices, Anderton said: “You’re acquainted with the theory of precrime, of course.  I presume we can take that for granted.”

“I have the information publicly available,” Witwer replied. “With the aid of your precog mutants, you’ve boldly and successfully abolished the postcrime punitive system of jails and fines.  As we all realize, punishment was never much of a deterrent, and could scarcely have afforded comfort to a victim already dead.” (Philip K. Dick, The Minority Report (1956).)

The story continues:

They had come to the descent lift.  As it carried them swiftly downward, Anderton said: “You’ve probably grasped the basic legalistic drawback to precrime methodology.  We’re taking in individuals who have broken no law.”

“But they surely will,” Witwer affirmed with conviction.

“Happily, they don’t —because we get them first, before they can commit an act of violence.  So the commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics.  We claim they’re culpable.  They, on the other hand, eternally claim they’re innocent.  And, in a sense, they are innocent.”

The lift let them out, and they again paced down a yellow corridor.  “In our society we have no major crimes,” Anderton went on, “but we do have a detention camp full of would-be criminals.”  (Dick, supra.)

The major front page story in Wednesday’s edition of the Fresno Bee, was titled “Revolving door: Inmates released early are committing new crimes.”  As the online version’s title of this completely non-sensationalistic anti-example of yellow journalism notes, one  in five Fresno Co. inmates freed early are jailed again for committing “new crimes.”  The story’s first sentence trumpets a contemporary meme by noting that these new crimes include “murder and assault.”

Fear doesn’t just sell war; it’s good for newspapers, too.

With Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer to succinctly state the theme, the Bee article joins a growing chorus of those warning us of the dangers of thinking clearly:

There’s no doubt in my mind that as more people are released early, more people are going to commit crime, and the crime rate is going to go up, not just in Fresno but throughout Fresno County. (Brad Branan, “Revolving door: Inmates released early are committing new crimes” (September 9, 2009) A1, A11, col. 3.)

As I said, fear sells newspapers.  And nobody knows fear like the yellow-journalism writers of The Fresno Bee The Fresno Police-Gazette.

But buried within the story pushing this meme is a minority report.  One in five released will commit “new crimes.” In other words, four in five will not commit “new crimes.”  Additionally, in an absolutely stunning statement (coming, as it did, from Fresno County’s top law enforcement official), Sheriff Mims stated that there were among this group people “who sometimes are innocent.”  (Branan, supra, at A11, col.4.)

Moreover, a significant number — almost half — of re-arrests are for probation violations.

Typically, a probation violation occurs when the individual released from jail returns home, where he naturally ends up standing on his lawn, or on the street, talking to some friends, or playing basketball.  Often, those friends have been “identified” by the police as gang members.  Even when they aren’t gang members. Hanging around with “known” gang members is a probation violation.

Or maybe the individual probationer misses the bus and is late for or doesn’t make it to an appointment with his probation officer, or commits some other heinous crime like failing to complete community service as ordered, or failing to pay a fine.

So, okay.  Let’s go ahead and spend the extra money and send the probation violators back to jail.  After all, they didn’t do what they were supposed to do, right?

But what about those four out five?  That other eighty percent of people who “have broken no (new) law”?  You can’t, like Witwer, affirm with conviction, “But they surely will.”  Keeping one-hundred percent of people in jails and prisons for a longer period of time just because some of them will commit “new crimes” — according to the Bee story one out of every five people — costs a lot of money.

Not that Fresno County, or the State of California, is short on money or anything.

“But wait!,” the fear-mongers cry.  “The public safety is just too vital an interest to take that chance!  Sure, it’s going to cost money, but we simply can’t risk the chance that once-in-a-while one of these people might commit a murder!  We have to keep them all locked up!”

Like Dick’s short story, yesterday’s edition of The Fresno Bee actually contained two minority reports.  Turn to page A3.  Read the story you didn’t know was connected to the money spent locking up people who likely will break no new law: “Domestic-violence centers set to close.”

What was that you were saying about safety?

Isn’t it time we got smart about crime?

Sadly, that doesn’t seem likely to happen soon.  Thanks to the fear-mongers, like Jerry Dyer (and police and correctional officer union lobbyists), whose primary aim is to sell law enforcement, and people whose primary aim is to sell paper, like The Fresno Bee, our society may have a few less actual criminals on the street, but we’re paying through the nose to ensure we do have jails and prisons full of would-be criminals.

8 comments

  1. You read it correctly — sort of. She did state that.

    However, what she was referring to is people who have been arrested on charges, but have not yet been convicted; i.e., people who are waiting for trial. These will typically be people who are too poor to bail out of jail after having been charged with a crime, but before someone with a brain looks at the case and dismisses, or a jury acquits them.

    The Sheriff is still required to keep them in jail under the law, but they’re actually innocent of any crimes.

  2. You read it correctly — sort of. She did state that.

    However, what she was referring to is people who have been arrested on charges, but have not yet been convicted; i.e., people who are waiting for trial. These will typically be people who are too poor to bail out of jail after having been charged with a crime, but before someone with a brain looks at the case and dismisses, or a jury acquits them.

    The Sheriff is still required to keep them in jail under the law, but they’re actually innocent of any crimes.

  3. Did i read that wrong or did the sheriff admit that they routinely lock up people whom he believes “might be innocent”? Presumably among them are people his employees arrested. That strikes me as refreshingly honest but seriously wrong.

  4. Did i read that wrong or did the sheriff admit that they routinely lock up people whom he believes “might be innocent”? Presumably among them are people his employees arrested. That strikes me as refreshingly honest but seriously wrong.

  5. Did i read that wrong or did the sheriff admit that they routinely lock up people whom he believes “might be innocent”? Presumably among them are people his employees arrested. That strikes me as refreshingly honest but seriously wrong.

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