A woman was tragically killed last week. The killer was a former inmate. Outrage over the killing has been swept up in the politics of Governor Jerry Brown’s prison realignment program, and most of those blaming the program are missing the mark entirely.
David Mulder, a 43 year old transient with prior drug convictions, was killed in the aftermath of the murder. He had stabbed 49-year old Elisa VanCleve to death in a car and was shot by California Highway Patrol soon after.
Mulder was released from prison on September 25 and his supervision was being handled by San Bernardino County. Those who oppose Gov. Brown’s strategy say the murder would have never happened without the realignment plan (which releases state inmates to county supervision). What they seem to be facing is the simple fact that: Mulder had served his sentence and would have been released regardless.
When there is opposition to a criminal justice policy, misunderstandings abound. Any potential fuel for the fire—even if it’s wrong—will be swept up in the debate and used to put an emotional slant on things.
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that Mulder’s release was due to the realignment plan. With our limited information about his past (coming from media sources), we know his history was in drug crimes. We know he served a good portion of his sentence. And in the spectrum of criminal behavior, we can tell he would be marked as a “good risk” for community supervision. In other words, absent a violent history, Mulder wouldn’t have been seen as a potentially violent offender. It’s doubtful anyone would have seen the murder coming.
The business of incarceration isn’t simple. It isn’t as simple as locking up those who break laws and holding them indefinitely. Not only would that not be cost effective (imprisonment is costly), but it would be an obvious violation of Constitutional and human rights.
There are tragic stories of criminals who commit crimes after being released from prison—it’s called recidivism and it’s a problem everywhere. Reducing recidivism has nothing to do with when you are released from prison or who supervises you, but in providing the supports to ensure you don’t come back.
Gov. Brown’s plan isn’t a perfect idea, not because counties are already overextended and not because violent inmates will go on killing rampages. It’s not a perfect idea because it doesn’t address a fundamental problem with the incarceration nation that is the U.S. Until policy makers like Brown and those critical of him realize incarceration itself is a major part of the problem, incidences like this will continue to happen and they will continue to cause misdirected rage.
When you are accused of a crime, the main goal should be to avoid incarceration. Until you are sentenced, you have options. Whether you are accused of drug distribution or a sexual offense, we may be able to help.