Major sentencing disparities can occur in different Bay Area Counties. What a judge sentences an individual to in one county could be vastly different than from what a judge sentences an individual to in another county. The differences in sentencing have a vast monetary effect on both county and California state resources.
Whatever affects county and state resources invariably affects taxpayers. It costs more to incarcerate an individual in California than it does in any other state.
How does this happen? How can two counties in the same area providesentencing disparities for the same crime?
Two Identical Crime Defendants – Two Different Sentences
Before getting into reasons for why sentencing discrepancies happen, see below for how sentencing discrepancies can occur.
Sentences change from county to county depending on a single all important factor: all 58 California counties from the top of the state to the bottom are allowed to tailor their criminal justice systems around county norms and philosophies.
To put it another way, every county in California can create their own judicial belief system. This autonomy is why sentencing disparities exist. Four factors drive county judicial belief systems:
Although there are several factors that account for sentencing discrepancies; there are a couple of factors that don’t account for discrepancies. The main two factors are county size and arrest rates.
County Size and Arrest Rates
The largest county in the Bay Area, San Francisco County, and one of the smallest counties in the Bay Area, San Joaquin County, have nearly identical felony and arrest rates.
It doesn’t matter that San Francisco County is 46.87 square miles and that San Joaquin County is 1,426 square miles. Although arrest rates were identical, this didn’t change the sentencing disparities. In 2012, arrested felons in San Joaquin were five times more likely to go to state prison.
No correlation exists among arrest rates, estimated population, and imprisonment rates. Contra Costa County’s estimated population is 1,138,645. They imprisoned 404 individuals from 1,090 arrests. Marin County’s estimated population is 261,532. In Marin County, they imprisoned 512 from 682 arrests.
Crime rates also don’t affect sentencing disparities. A low-imprisonment county like Alameda, who reported 4,266 crimes in 2016, only incarcerated 568 individuals. Santa Clara County reported 2,498 crimes in 2016. They incarcerated 817 individuals.
Although sentencing disparities exist, all California taxpayers foot the bill no matter where disparities might occur. It costs California taxpayers $75,000 to house each prisoner each year. Whether the individual is imprisoned in San Francisco County, Marin County, or Santa Clara County, all California citizens pay for the prisoner’s incarceration.
Reasons exist for why sentencing discrepancies occur in Bay Area Counties. Political ideology, lack of nation wide legislative guidelines, sentencing subjectivity, and individual trial judges all contribute to those discrepancies. What doesn’t contribute to the discrepancies are county size, arrest rates, estimated population, and imprisonment rates. Furthermore, even though sentencing disparities exist, all California taxpayers foot the bill to pay for prisoner incarceration.
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