California’s “Three Strikes” Law Has Done Little Except To Cost State’s Taxpayers Big Bucks

October 14, 2012

CALIFORNIA – Contrary to what police, politicians and the public believe about the effectiveness of California’s three-strikes law, research by a University of California, Riverside criminologist has found that the get-tough-on-criminals policy voters approved in 1994 has done nothing to reduce the crime rate.

In a rigorous analysis of crime in California and the nation, sociology professor Robert Nash Parker determined that crime has been decreasing at about the same rate in every state for 20 years, regardless of whether three-strikes policies are in place or not.

Parker’s findings appear in the paper “Why California’s ‘Three Strikes’ Fails as Crime and Economic Policy, and What to Do,” published recently in the California Journal of Politics and Policy. The online journal publishes cutting-edge research on national, state and local government, electoral politics, and public policy formation and implementation.

California’s three-strikes law imposes a minimum sentence of 25 years to life on the third felony conviction for offenders with prior serious or violent felony convictions. Approximately 23,000 individuals have been incarcerated under three strikes. Proposition 36, on the Nov. 6 ballot, would impose the life sentence only when the new felony conviction is serious or violent.

“There is not a single shred of scientific evidence, research or data to show that three strikes caused a 100 percent decline in violence in California or elsewhere in the last 20 years,” Parker said, adding that the downward trend began two years before the California law was enacted.

Violent crime decreased by about the same rate in California and other three-strikes states as well as those without similar legislation, Parker found. Other researchers who have examined crime in California cities and counties since the legislation took effect have reached similar conclusions, he noted.

“Three-strikes is not driving the trend in violent crime,” Parker said.

Nor is threat of a life sentence for repeat offenders a deterrent, he added, citing the work of other researchers on offender behavior which found that neither prior arrests nor prior convictions had any impact on an individual offender’s perception of being caught, suggesting that three-strikes laws are not the deterrent that law enforcement officials, politicians and the public would like to believe.

If three-strikes laws do not account for the significant decline in violent crime, what does?

Alcohol consumption and unemployment, Parker believes.

Citing earlier research, analyses of 60 years of national crime data investigated alcohol consumption, unemployment, poverty, proportion of young people in the population, average earnings, welfare payments, and U.S. involvement in war as possible influences on crime.

Parker and Wisconsin researcher Randi Cartmill determined that when alcohol consumption increases, violent crime follows one or two years later, and that when alcohol consumption decreases, the crime rate drops one to two years later.

“Alcohol consumption peaked nationally in 1982 and has declined significantly and steadily ever since,” Parker said. “Beer and spirits consumption are the two most consistent predictors of homicide.”

Unemployment is a lesser, but influential factor, in the rise and fall of crime rates, they found.

“These findings are consistent with a growing body of research that demonstrates the important relationship between alcohol and violence in the U.S.,” Parker said. “There is no justification for continuing three strikes from a violence prevention point of view. In fact, this analysis suggests that alcohol policy designed to reduce overall consumption in California may be more effective at reducing violence than three strikes and/or other criminal justice policy initiatives.”

While three strikes has been ineffective in reducing the crime rate, Parker says, the law has contributed significantly to California’s serious budget woes, which now also impacts county jails as inmates are transferred from state prisons to local jurisdictions to comply with court orders to reduce overcrowding—a policy known as “realignment.”

Incarcerating so many Californians has shifted state spending priorities, he points out. In 1985, spending on higher education in the state accounted for about 11 percent of the budget; prisons consumed 4 percent of state spending. By 1993, spending for each accounted for about 6 percent of the budget. By 2010, higher education spending accounted for less than 6 percent of the state budget while prison spending consumed nearly 10 percent. K-12 budgets and spending on health and welfare programs have eroded substantially since the implementation of three strikes as well.

The state spends approximately $57,500 to house one inmate for one year, according to the California State Auditor.

Leaving three strikes intact while pursuing the policy of realignment could result in significant financial problems in the near future for both state and local governments, Parker cautioned.

“California should give up its addiction to the all-you-can-eat buffet of imprisonment, the result of which has been to undermine the financial health of the state, weaken the quality of education at all levels, and force the state to make draconian cuts in programs that enhance and benefit the lives of its residents in exchange for the mistaken idea that public safety was the result,” Parker concluded. “The bottom-line result of three strikes has been an almost unbearable financial burden that looms in the future despite current efforts, and which will only be resolved when the pipeline of over-punishment is finally shut down.”

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El Dorado County California Judge Fall For The Old “I’ll Be Right Back”, Man Sentenced To State Prison For Domestic Violence Now In The Wind

October 10, 2012

EL DORADO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – A man who was being sentenced to state prison ran away after he was released for three hours Thursday to get his affairs in order.

According to El Dorado County Sheriff’s Lt. Pete Van Arnum, a judge signed a three-hour release for Anthony James Katello, 51, to take care of business before his incarceration. A volunteer from a local church was tasked with driving Katello to a couple places in South Lake Tahoe. When he drove into the Barton Memorial Hospital area, where Katello said he had to meet someone, Katello took off on foot.

“I don’t think the judge would have released him if he felt he was dangerous,” Van Arnum said.

Sheriff’s deputies, South Lake Tahoe SWAT, a CHP airplane and K-9 units searched the meadow area behind Barton, where Katello was reportedly last seen, for hours, Van Arnum said.

Katello was in custody for spousal battery and making terrorist threats. Police have issued a warrant for his arrest. Anyone who sees Katello is asked to call 911.

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Congressmen Press Army To Purchase Tanks That It Doesn’t Need – 2000 Parked In Nevada Collecting Dust And No New Purchases, Which Will Save Taxpayers Billions

October 10, 2012

HERLONG, CALIFORNIA – If you need an example of why it is hard to cut the budget in Washington look no further than this Army depot in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada range.

CNN was allowed rare access to what amounts to a parking lot for more than 2,000 M-1 Abrams tanks. Here, about an hour’s drive north of Reno, Nevada, the tanks have been collecting dust in the hot California desert because of a tiff between the Army and Congress.

The U.S. has more than enough combat tanks in the field to meet the nation’s defense needs – so there’s no sense in making repairs to these now, the Army’s chief of staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told Congress earlier this year.

If the Pentagon holds off repairing, refurbishing or making new tanks for three years until new technologies are developed, the Army says it can save taxpayers as much as $3 billion.

That may seem like a lot of money, but it’s a tiny sacrifice for a Defense Department that will cut $500 billion from its budget over the next decade and may be forced to cut a further $500 billion if a deficit cutting deal is not reached by Congress.

Why is this a big deal? For one, the U.S. hasn’t stopped producing tanks since before World War II, according to lawmakers.

Plus, from its point of view the Army would prefer to decide what it needs and doesn’t need to keep America strong while making tough economic cuts elsewhere.

“When a relatively conservative institution like the U.S. military, which doesn’t like to take risks because risks get people killed, says it has enough tanks, I think generally civilians should be inclined to believe them,” said Travis Sharp a fellow at the defense think tank, New American Security.

But guess which group of civilians isn’t inclined to agree with the generals on this point?

Congress.

To be exact, 173 House members – Democrats and Republicans – sent a letter April 20 to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, urging him to continue supporting their decision to produce more tanks.

That’s right. Lawmakers who frequently and loudly proclaim that presidents should listen to generals when it comes to battlefield decisions are refusing to take its own advice.

If the U.S. pauses tank production and refurbishment it will hurt the nation’s industrial economy, lawmakers say.

“The combat vehicle industrial base is a unique asset that consists of hundreds of public and private facilities across the United States,” the letter said. The outlook for selling Abrams tanks to other nations appears “stronger than prior years,” the letter said. But those sales would be “inadequate to sustain the industrial base and in some cases uncertain. In light of this, modest and continued Abrams production for the Army is necessary to protect the industrial base.”

Lima, Ohio, is a long way from this dusty tank parking lot. The tiny town in the eastern part of the Buckeye State is where defense manufacturing heavyweight General Dynamics makes these 60-plus-ton behemoths.

The tanks create 16,000 jobs and involve 882 suppliers, says Kendell Pease, the company’s vice-president of government relations and communications. That job figure includes ancillary positions like gas station workers who fill up employees’ cars coming and going to the plant.

Many of the suppliers for tank manufacturing are scattered around the country so the issue of stopping production or refurbishment becomes a parochial one: congressional representatives don’t want to kill any jobs in their districts, especially as the economy struggles during an election year.

“General Dynamics is not the industrial base,” Pease said. “It is small vendors.”

But General Dynamics certainly has a stake in the battle of the tanks and is making sure its investment is protected, according to research done by The Center for Public Integrity, a journalism watchdog group.

What its reporters found was General Dynamics campaign contributions given to lawmakers at key times, such as around congressional hearings, on whether or not to build more tanks.

“We aren’t saying there’s vote buying” said Aaron Metha, one of the report’s authors. “We are saying it’s true in pretty much all aspects of politics – but especially the defense industry. It’s almost impossible to separate out the money that is going into elections and the special interests. And what we found was the direct spike in the giving around certain important dates that were tied to votes.”

Pease said General Dynamics is bipartisan in its giving and there is nothing suspicious in the timing of its donations to members of the House and Senate. The giving is tied to when fundraisers are held in Washington – which is also when Congress is in session, he said.

Lawmakers that CNN interviewed denied that donations influenced their decisions to keep the tanks rolling.

Rep. Buck McKeon, a Republican from California and chairman of the House armed services committee, said he didn’t know General Dynamics had given him $56,000 in campaign contributions since 2009 until CNN asked him about it.

“You know, the Army has a job to do and we have a job to do,” McKeon said. “And they have tough choices because they’ve been having their budget cut.”

McKeon said he’s thinking about the long range view. “… If someone could guarantee us that we’ll never need tanks in the future, that would be good. I don’t see that guarantee.”

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California Whining Now That Folks Out Of State Folks Take Them Up On Their Free Money Program

October 7, 2012

CALIFORNIA – Just over 8.5 billion recyclable cans were sold in California last year. The number redeemed for a nickel under California’s recycling law: 8.3 billion.

That’s a return rate of nearly 100%.

That kind of success isn’t just impressive, it’s unbelievable. But the recycling rate for certain plastic containers was even higher: 104%.

California’s generous recycling redemption program has led to rampant fraud. Crafty entrepreneurs are driving semi-trailers full of cans from Nevada or Arizona, which don’t have deposit laws, across the border and transforming their cargo into truckfuls of nickels. In addition, recyclers inside the state are claiming redemptions for the same containers several times over, or for containers that never existed.

The illicit trade is draining the state’s $1.1-billion recycling fund. Government officials recently estimated the fraud at $40 million a year, and an industry expert said it could exceed $200 million. It’s one reason the strapped fund paid out $100 million more in expenses last year than it took in from deposits and other sources.

“The law says California has to make it easy to recycle … so anyone with a devious mind, it’s so easy, they can just go right in,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Chapman, who has investigated fraud rings in recent months.

Under the state’s 25-year-old recycling law, California charges consumers a deposit on most beverage containers sold within its borders. Anyone who brings empty containers back to one of about 2,300 privately run recycling centers can collect 5 cents for most cans and bottles and 10 cents for larger containers.

Only products sold in California are eligible. But a can is a can — and many recycling centers in California aren’t that interested in where they come from.

Hence the influx from out of state. Last summer, the state Department of Food and Agriculture counted all vehicles driving into the state with used beverage containers through 16 border stations. The three-month tally was 3,500, including 505 rental trucks filled to capacity with cans.

Officials with the state Department of Justice said they have filed approximately 10 criminal cases this year against fraud rings bringing in cans from outside California.

Investigators looking into one case sometimes stumble across another.

In the spring of 2010, special agents Jose Soto and Joe Somanek, part of the Justice Department’s recycling fraud unit, were driving east on Interstate 8 to tie up some details in a case in Arizona.

Around 5 a.m, they were drinking coffee and making plans for the day when a white Ford pickup and trailer sped past them, heading west. Suspecting the truck might be carrying cans, the agents flipped a U-turn and followed it more than 150 miles to San Diego, where it pulled into Ace Recycling. The driver and his passenger unloaded 21 large bags full of cans, were paid by the owner and headed back to Yuma.

The suspects made the same journey at least three more times over the next few weeks. Officials said that fraud ring brought in at least $189,000 worth of cans before they were caught.

Ultimately, the owner of Ace Recycling, Michael Barshak, and several others pleaded guilty to grand theft and unlawful recycling.

Eleven states have container redemption programs, and experts believe some level of fraud exists in each. “Seinfeld” fans will recognize the scheme: Two characters once conspired to drive a mail truck full of empty bottles from New York, where they could be redeemed for 5 cents each, to Michigan, where they could fetch 10.

The problem is particularly challenging — and costly — in California. This is the only state in the region besides Oregon with a deposit program, making it a magnet for recycling fraud. And it is the only state besides Hawaii to directly administer the program through private recycling centers.

Other states have beverage distributors or sellers collect the deposits and pay the redemption costs, so they — and not the state — are responsible for the money. But grocery stores and markets opposed that approach in California, which opted to have private recycling centers take in the material. The state reimburses the centers for what they spend on redemption costs, based on their account of what they take in by weight.

The centers, which make their money by selling the material for scrap value and sometimes by collecting additional fees from the state, have a financial incentive to maximize the amount of material they take in, not to look for fraud.

State officials say recycling centers in California are required to take reasonable precautions: They are not allowed, for instance, to buy more than 500 pounds of aluminum or 2,500 pounds of glass from any one person in any given day.

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Los Angeles California TSA Agent Clyde Reese Arrested After Stealing $100 From Traveler

October 7, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Authorities say a Transportation Security Administration officer was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after being accused of stealing $100 from a passenger.

Clyde Reese, 47, of Gardena, was arrested on suspicion of theft about 8 a.m. Friday and booked at the 77th Street Station in response to an airline passenger complaint in Terminal 5, Los Angeles Airport police Sgt. Karla Ortiz told the Daily Breeze.

The victim, who wasn’t identified, said he put his wallet and other items in a bin and passed it through the X-ray machine, and Reese said it needed to go through a second time, Ortiz said.

When the bin emerged, the victim said his wallet was open and his credit cards were scattered inside, Ortiz said. She told the Daily Breeze the victim said his boss gave him $500 for expenses and $100 was missing.

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez issued a statement, saying the agency “holds its employees to the highest ethical standards and has a zero tolerance for theft.”

“In cases involving theft on duty, it is agency policy to remove the officer immediately from screening duties and terminate the officer from employment,” Melendez said.

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Costa Mesa California Mayor Eric Bever Sees Starvation As Answer To City’s Homeless Problems – Fortunately He’ll Be Out Of Office Next Month

October 6, 2012

COSTA MESA, CALIFORNIA – The mayor of Costa Mesa proposed to get rid of soup kitchens to deal with the area’s homeless problem at a city council meeting on Tuesday.

“My belief is that if we manage to put the soup kitchen out of business that will go a long way to addressing the attractiveness in our city that’s creating a huge negative impact,” Eric Bever said.

According to Bever, the “negative impact” is homeless people who like Costa Mesa because of services that offer food to less fortunate individuals.

Clients at Someone Cares Soup Kitchen and the non-profit Share Our Selves were stunned by the controversial comments.

“It’s very hard to come here. I’ve been a very self-sufficient person my entire life,” said a tearful Mary Raphael. “When I need some help, I’m told I’m trash? It’s not a very kind thought.”

Shannon Santos, the executive director of Someone Cares, said nearly half of her clients are low-income seniors and most of the people who eat there live nearby.

She said she’s thankful the mayor will be termed out of office next month, but still offered him an invitation.

“My open invitation is for him to come in and have lunch with me,” said Santos.

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California Gas Prices Jump 20 Cents Overnight, Stations Run Out And Shut Down – $5 Gas Prices If Trend Continue

October 5, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – Gas prices seem to be climbing by the second, setting unwanted records, angering drivers and even causing closures at some pumps.

Gas prices shot up 19.2 cents overnight Thursday. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in L.A. County was $4.58 on Friday, the highest figure since 2008.

In Orange County, the average is up 20 cents to $4.53, while in the Inland Empire, it’s up to $4.48. In Ventura County, the average price per gallon is $4.54.

The price increases could continue for weeks and the average might even break the $5 mark, according to experts.

Refinery and pipeline mishaps, along with the state’s strict pollution limits are all, in part, to blame. They’ve sent wholesale prices soaring to all-time highs this week.

One of the disruptions involved a power outage on Monday at the Exxon Mobil plant in Torrance, which normally produces 150 millions barrels of gas per day.

Additionally, Chevron’s Richmond plant, the largest refinery in Northern California, has been running at reduced capacity since a fire Aug. 6.

At the same time, California refineries have dropped production in recent weeks in anticipation of switching over to a “winter blend” of gasoline, which emits more pollutants, next month.

But California’s summer-blend fuel requirements are in effect in Southern California until Oct. 31.

Because of the spike in wholesale prices, some gas station owners have stopped making purchases to fill their underground tanks.

Mom-and-pop stations are really feeling the squeeze. They’ve had to shut down because they can’t get gas from their regular distributor, or they can’t afford it.

And at least 12 Costco gas stations, including those in Marina del Rey, Tustin and Inglewood, have run out of gasoline.

The Costco in Simi Valley ran out of regular fuel on Thursday and was selling premium fuel at regular prices.

Costco is an independent gas provider, so it has to find gas on the open market.

Costco’s CEO said Friday morning that he expects to have gasoline back in their tanks soon, but probably not in time for the weekend.

Valero Energy Corp. stopped selling gasoline on the wholesale market in Southern California and is allocating deliveries to customers.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is also rationing fuel to U.S. West Coast terminal customers.

Gas prices in California should continue to rise as retail prices catch up with wholesale prices, analysts say.

“Wholesale prices have gone up $1 a gallon in the last week alone, and retail prices have only followed for 30 cents,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, told the Daily News.

He said that means there’s still room for gas prices to climb, and he expects that’s exactly what they will do.

Gas prices have already surpassed $5 a gallon at a few filling stations in California, according to GasBuddy.com.

The average price per gallon in California is already well above the record high national average price of $4.114 a gallon, which was set in 2008 when oil prices rose to $140 a barrel.

And it’s likely that California’s record average price of $4.61 per gallon, set in June 2008, will be broken, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for Oil Price Information Service.

Analysts expect that the surge in California gas prices will retreat sometime in October, though it’s impossible to say exactly when.

Relief could come more quickly if the state’s refineries are allowed to switch to the cheaper winter-grade fuel before the end of October.

The California Independent Oil Marketers Association, which represents wholesale and retail fuel marketers, asked the state Thursday to expedite a waiver allowing for the switch.

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