Wide disparity across counties in incarceration rates


Where you live has a lot to do with how likely you are to be locked up.

That is the finding of a new investigation from the Associated Press into incarceration rates across the state.

The number of inmates statewide is down from 2007, the study found, but people in liberal enclaves like San Francisco or Marin are far less likely to be locked up than people arrested in other parts of the state like Kings or Lassen Counties.

As the AP reports, “The different incarceration rates outlined in the data reflect policies established by Gov. Jerry Brown and others to let California's 58 counties tailor their criminal justice systems to local conditions and law enforcement philosophies — setting up 58 different approaches.  That makes sense as counties deal with different conditions as well as different philosophies in their approaches to law enforcement, said Magnus Lofstrom, who studies the issue for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

"If you have a county with a substantial gang and drug problem ... it would be perfectly reasonable to see higher incarceration rates," Lofstrom said. On the other hand, "it is troubling if we have a situation where we have two offenders who committed similar crimes and have similar backgrounds, if they face different sentences."

“But it's unclear if that's happening because the possibility hasn't been studied in-depth, he said.”