May 2 2012 09:49 AM

City attorney makes egregious comments about criminal-justice realignment

Jan Goldsmith
Photo by David Rolland

San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith is entitled to his opinion, but one of his most recently expressed opinions has us lamenting a couple of things: We lament that the city attorney isn't an appointed position rather than an elected one, and, since it is an elected position, we lament that Goldsmith doesn't have an opponent in this year's election.

U-T San Diego published a story last weekend about San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore's new policy of declining to jail suspects accused of certain misdemeanors. Under California's so-called "public-safety realignment," thousands of low-level, nonviolent, non-serious inmates will be held in county jails rather than state prisons in order to relieve prison overcrowding and save money, and, as a result, capacity at local jails will approach court-supervised limits.

Goldsmith is the first person quoted in the story, and he was the only person quoted who had any problem with the new policy.

From the story: "‘We are very concerned that shifting the State's responsibility to incarcerate felons to the local level is creating safety risks to our communities,' San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said in an email Friday." The story continued: "His office prosecutes misdemeanor cases. Goldsmith blamed what he called a ‘dysfunctional' Legislature and governor for shifting their problems to local governments rather ‘than take action to cut their unnecessary spending.'"

Criticizing the Democrat-heavy Legislature for spending money is among the favorite talking points in the Republican handbook. It's so easy. In U-T San Diego's story, Goldsmith didn't identify how legislators are spending unnecessarily. So we asked him. His response started with the tired plea for the state to reduce employee pensions and, quoting a California Taxpayers Association pamphlet, gave one other example: Repeal the law that requires the state to use certified court reporters to make courtroom transcriptions, which are then sold to the state. CTA recommends electronic court reporting, which would save an estimated $111 million per year.

We can get behind that, but the estimated savings from realignment starts at $450 million a year and grows to nearly $1.5 billion by 2014. The state needs that kind of money, and a lot more, to deal with the loss of tax revenue caused by the recent devastating recession. And, is Goldsmith's preference to build more prisons with money he thinks can be saved elsewhere? The state's under court order to reduce prison populations, which is a more important reason for realignment than saving money. This is a real opportunity to look at how and why we lock people up.

That brings us to Goldsmith's more egregious remark—about public safety. Like so many politicians before him, Goldsmith is unnecessarily trying to scare you. Realignment is not creating public-safety risks in our communities; decades of public-safety policy based on mass incarceration is. We believe the public will be safer with fewer people cycling in and out of state prisons, which are widely known to produce people who are more menacing to society on the way out than they were on the way in, thanks to horrendous conditions. We asked Goldsmith's spokesperson on Tuesday morning to explain his statement, but we received no response as of press time.

Again, no police officials in U-T San Diego's story expressed a particular problem with the new reality. Goldsmith, who tried—unsuccessfully—a couple of times while in the state Assembly to increase prison sentences, gave a political response to a criminal-justice question. Lame.

Goodbye again, Kinsee

On Feb. 11, 2009, we published a sad farewell to our arts and culture editor, Kinsee Morlan. She was leaving CityBeat and San Diego for a new life in Colorado.

That didn't go exactly as planned, and she returned to us in June 2010. Now she's breaking our hearts again; Kinsee will start a new career next week.

In 2009, we used this entire editorial space to sing her praises and document her impact on both CityBeat and the local arts community. When you leave a second time, you get a much shorter send-off. Wink.

Seriously, though, we'd just repeat everything we said then. But we'd add that since that time, Kinsee's narrative-writing skills have made enormous improvements. Local readers will truly miss her. And we'll miss seeing her—and her happy, friendly dog Mona—every day. We wish her the best of luck on her new career.

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