Issues of crime and punishment are among the most difficult that we deal with as a society. Sacrifice deserves justice. Our communities deserve to live safely. Those who come before our courts must respect their rights and have a fair, constitutional process. And we cannot ignore that incarceration can have far-reaching consequences for inmates as well as their families and communities.
As a judge, I’ve seen countless cases in our courts. It was my duty to weigh the facts and govern fairly. For the same reason, I believe the people of San Francisco deserve the facts about District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s recall. First, we need to look at the main argument put forward by proponents of the recall: crime has increased and that increase is directly attributable to Boudin.
Wrong on both points: Neither of the two assumptions actually has a basis.
As recently reported, the number of violent crimes is at its lowest level since 1975. Crimes such as rape, assault and robbery have declined by double digits since DA Boudin was sworn in last year. In fact, Boudin’s and predecessor George Gascón’s conviction rates are almost identical, but Boudins is 5% more successful.
A recent report from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that overzealous law enforcement activities can lead to poorer results. In this study, for the first time, a high criminal prosecution rate led to more crime, not less. The authors theorize that admitting minor offenders to the criminal justice system may offer them fewer and worse opportunities than other forms of rehabilitation because they are cut off from educational, employment and housing opportunities.
District attorneys are themselves limited by the information given to them. About half of all acts of violence are not even reported for various reasons. And of those who have been reported, the police cannot arrest a similarly significant proportion. For example, in San Francisco police only arrest around 9 percent of reported break-ins. Put simply, prosecutors cannot move forward in cases where the police fail to provide evidence of conviction.
As a 35-year-old member and two-time president of the California Association for Criminal Justice Research, I can say with authority that these questions are carefully examined by experts so that jurisdictions like ours have fact-based evidence on which to make political decisions, not just anecdotal Examples of some unfortunate cases.
That’s pretty important. While it is clear that we can never eradicate the crime that has existed in society for thousands of years, we can work to reduce relapses and restore lawful citizens. It is neither easy nor straightforward to achieve, but it would be worth the effort to get people out of the criminal arena if their crimes are often primarily related to substance abuse.
Theft is often driven by poverty, as is homelessness. Substance abuse is also implicated as a way to make these circumstances more tolerable and explains why improved access to mental health services, community solutions and stronger social networks can help prevent crime.
Detention is essential for heinous crimes, but not necessarily all minor crimes. The incarceration of defendants in court, that is, before a trial or conviction based solely on a defendant’s inability to bail, has now been denied in California by our own California Supreme Court. It is more expensive to have a misdemeanor or a pre-trial accused in our county than to get a student through Stanford. When we put our resources into more effective programs, it often leads to an improved outcome.
Crime is neither caused nor regulated by a single public prosecutor. Our prosecutor, like any prosecutor, inherits a plethora of problems. These are problems that cannot be resolved without the efforts of numerous judicial and law enforcement agencies. It doesn’t do this with a snap of your fingers. We need to give our judicial authorities and our elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin the opportunity to demonstrate a positive effect in our overstretched system.
Whenever I sent a jury to deliberate, I always instructed them to look at the facts. In this recall, I urge Franciscans to do the same – look at the facts and understand the impact a recall would have on crime in San Francisco. And I hope you will join me in combating this wasteful effort to undermine our elections and our choices as voters.
Judge Tomar Mason served in both the criminal and civil departments of the San Francisco Supreme Court for 21 years, including serving as presiding judge.
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