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Jonathan Kraut: Forgiving our failed justice system

Posted: April 22, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 22, 2014 2:00 a.m.

The Easter season for many of our Christian brothers and sisters is a time of year that prompts us to reflect on the concept of redemption.

Springtime and the resurrection are cues that remind us of death and rebirth and of profound transformation.

Indeed, redemption and forgiveness are the cornerstones of many faiths.

But sometimes applying forgiveness for misconduct breeds more misconduct.

Convicted sex offenders and rapists Steven Gordon and Franc Cano were just arrested in Orange County for their participation in at least four murders.

Despite being on “probation” with GPS devices affixed around their ankles, these two are alleged to have hunted down, attacked, raped, mutilated, and brutally murdered at least four young women.

California Superior Court dockets indicate that Cano and Gordon were convicted of lewd and lascivious acts on children under 14 years old and were released after serving mild prison sentences.

My first question is: Why were they freed? Why would our society tolerate releasing anyone proven to feast on abusing the innocent — unless true rehabilitation had occurred?

Counting the days, months, and years sitting in custody is the wrong means by which we should determine who is redeemed.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that about 67.5 percent of inmates released from custody are re-arrested within three years. Obviously, jail and prison fail as remedies to misconduct two-thirds of the time.

As of 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported that it was tracking 9,582 sex offenders and states that there were roughly 106,216 sex offenders living in California.

If I get my math right, this means we can look forward to experiencing at least 71,500 new arrests of the 106,000 set free among the honest and innocent.

Surely it is cheaper to lock up proven offenders rather than engage the police, detectives, prosecutors, judges, court staff, sheriff’s deputies, public offenders, corrections staff, probation officers, and law clerks another 71,500 times.

The biggest flaw with our justice system and lawmakers is they issue a measure of forgiveness without first requiring true redemption.

Another flaw with how we “forgive” misconduct is the manner in which the courts sentence criminals to concurrent versus consecutive sentences.

A consecutive sentence is reflected by having an inmate serve a sentence for each crime one after another.

Concurrent sentencing is serving the punishment for all the crimes at once.

In my view, concurrent sentencing erodes fairness and dismisses consequences for all misconduct save the most serious charge.

I have first-hand knowledge of supervising judges issuing directives to other judges to keep incarceration sentences to a minimum in consideration of correction facility overcrowding.

The recent sentencing of Robert Rizzo, convicted corrupt city manager for Bell, reminds us of the unfairness related to consecutive sentencing.

Rizzo plead no contest to 69 public corruption counts and received 12 years in state prison. With good behavior and time served, he will likely serve little more than 10 years.

Because he is serving all these crimes at once, his 12-year term might hold true even if he were convicted of only two or three counts.

What happened to the other 66 counts? Nothing — they just disappeared.

Angela Spaccia, Rizzo’s convicted assistant, also received 12 years of prison time, and she was convicted of 11 counts.

The message is that you might as well go for it, since one or two crimes has the same penalty as dozens of offenses — 11 counts equals 69.

And there is a high likelihood of early release for non-violent offenders, to boot.

Redemption is a permanent mental shift in thinking and therefore a permanent change in conduct. Without a transformation in thinking, criminals who walk into prison walk out a bit older, but are still criminals.

We need to insist that our lawmakers, judges, and state officials shift away from our failed policies of issuing forgiveness without transformation.

Furthermore, we should not forgive the policies and attitudes that place child rapists, serial burglars, on-line scammers, corrupt politicians, and murderers back among the innocent, only to harvest suffering once again.

At this time of renewal and change, be willing to take courageous steps with your vote and your voice to resurrect a just and safe society.

Jonathan Kraut is a local private investigator and serves in the Democratic Party of the SCV and SCV Interfaith Council.



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