28 Years, 160 Arrests: What One Guy’s Document Finds About San Diego’s Damaged Justice Device

What do you do with people who find themselves time and again failed by means of social services and products and the criminal device?

The previous 28 years of Angel’s* lifestyles are specified by courtroom information—dozens of them—beginning with a drug arrest in March 1994, when he used to be 19 years previous. Now 47, Angel has been arrested by means of San Diego County regulation enforcement greater than 160 occasions—together with 21 occasions since Might 2021—most commonly for misdemeanor drug ownership.

In line with to be had data and an e mail interview together with his sister, Angel has suffered from schizophrenia and drug dependancy since he used to be an adolescent. Right through one prison keep, he used to be involuntarily medicated, in line with a pass judgement on’s order.

The sheer choice of Angel’s interactions with the felony justice device suggests each a person not able to conquer his psychological well being struggles and a collection of establishments that has singularly did not assist him accomplish that. Again and again, prosecutors, judges, and jailers have reached for a similar blunt equipment, even supposing the ones equipment have so obviously finished not anything to disrupt the development of Angel’s lifestyles.

The Enchantment made a couple of makes an attempt to find Angel whilst this tale used to be being reported, together with by means of contacting members of the family and homeless-outreach staff and by means of taking a look out for brand spanking new arrest data. Each try used to be unsuccessful—a testomony to how completely the device can lose monitor of prone other folks.

Neil Besse, a deputy public defender in San Diego who, till just lately, headed up the workplace’s psychological well being diversion unit (however has now not represented Angel) described Angel as “falling via cracks like few others.”

Even the San Diego Town Legal professional’s workplace admits that regularly prosecuting Angel hasn’t proved efficient.

“It’s transparent that [Angel] wishes remedy services and products and that repeated reserving into prison won’t supply him the reinforce he must heal and get out of the felony justice device,” Hilary Nemchik, then a spokeswoman for the workplace, wrote in an e mail to The Enchantment overdue remaining 12 months.

The typical day-to-day inhabitants of San Diego County jails fell all through the pandemic, from 5,630 in 2019 to simply below 4,000 finally rely. As San Diego officers discover techniques to additional scale back the inhabitants, a query lingers: What do you do with other folks like Angel, who’re time and again failed by means of social services and products and the criminal device, and who account for a disproportionate choice of the incarcerated inhabitants?

“A felony criminal device this is responding to psychological sickness and substance use by means of arresting somebody dozens of occasions in line with 12 months for years on finish is neither humane nor efficient,” Aaron Littman, a medical instructing fellow at UCLA Faculty of Legislation, stated. “Jailing somebody again and again is costly, and that cash may just no doubt be higher spent on offering supportive, community-based services and products.”

Courtroom data supply a window into the mounting futility of the cycle of arrests and re-arrests that has marked Angel’s lifestyles. Mins from hearings recommend a device and defendant that experience grown weary of one another. “[Defendant] refused to get at the bus” seems a couple of occasions in case information, relating to the bus that transports prisoners from prison to courtroom for scheduled hearings.

Angel’s sister, Sandra, stated in an e mail that her mom, who died in 2018, had searched repeatedly through the years for a remedy program that may settle for Angel. When the ones efforts failed, she would attempt to in finding him a spot to sleep at a refuge or motel as a result of he used to be ceaselessly too risky to stick with her.

“She at all times fearful about him,” Sandra stated.

In San Diego, 35 p.c of other folks with a historical past of substance abuse who’re arrested for a prison and 42 p.c who’re arrested for a misdemeanor even have a recognized psychological sickness, in keeping with a up to date learn about by means of the San Diego Affiliation of Governments, a regional making plans and policymaking company. Those people are much more likely to revel in housing instability, making remedy tough.

It sort of feels there have been some makes an attempt to grapple with Angel’s psychological sickness early on. In July 1999, as an example, Angel, then 24 years previous, agreed to plead accountable to 2 felonies—stalking and attack with a dangerous weapon—in trade for the likelihood that the pass judgement on would counsel he be despatched to a state psychiatric clinic for remedy as an alternative of to jail.

“I make no commitments, however I can believe whether or not to make the advice,” San Diego Awesome Courtroom Pass judgement on Gale Kaneshiro informed Angel, in keeping with a transcript of his sentencing listening to.

“That’s what I would love so that you can do for me,” Angel spoke back, “so I will recuperate.”

But, in keeping with courtroom data, there is not any indication that Angel used to be ever despatched to a state psychiatric clinic or, except being involuntarily medicated all through a prison keep, that he has ever gained any roughly inpatient remedy. As a substitute, he has time and again been despatched to state jail.

Data display that after Angel used to be presented probation in trade for collaborating in a remedy program, he had issue following the principles. A couple of case information come with warrants for his arrest as a result of he failed to turn as much as courtroom. At one level, he used to be arrested for now not appearing as much as get the result of a clinical take a look at. He has been kicked out of team houses and, in keeping with fresh courtroom data, is recently homeless.

Angel “has demonstrated that he’s not able to stay regulation abiding,” one probation document says, relating to an incident in 2012 during which Angel attacked his mom. The document does say that the probation officer referred Angel to one in every of San Diego County”s greatest psychological well being services and products techniques, however that he used to be rejected beause he used to be deemed a security chance. In 2014, California citizens handed Prop. 47, which diminished low-level felonies, together with maximum instances of straightforward drug ownership, to misdemeanors. Since just about all his crimes have been for drug ownership, Angel were given stuck up in what Besse describes as a “tradition of misdemeanors,” during which instances transfer briefly throughout the courtroom, leaving little time for judges and legal professionals to evaluate a defendant’s wishes.

Angel has a historical past of dependancy to meth, which will exacerbate psychological sickness, making him a troublesome consumer.

“It takes the skilled legal professionals now not days however weeks, and every now and then months, for a shopper to actually get pondering obviously after the usage of meth for any sustained time frame,” Besse stated. “The methamphetamine and the compressed misdemeanor timetables, they only don’t lend themselves to that.”

Besse described the felony criminal device as being compartmentalized and “out of sync with itself.” He stated that the device’s incapacity to hyperlink Angel with the services and products he wishes after arresting him used to be transparent proof of its failings.

“In the event that they’re now not achieving [Angel] on any of the bookings, that raises policy-implementation questions,” he stated. “Like, are we going to make use of the felony device or now not use the felony device? If we’re going to make use of it, let’s all paintings in combination and use it properly. If we’re now not going to make use of it, then let’s get the message the entire means all the way down to the boots at the floor and inform them to take [arrestees] to a clinic, take them to a sobering middle, or don’t even do anything else, you already know?”

Angel has additionally discovered himself stuck in a specifically grim lure: one of the vital very techniques that may assist forestall his cycle of arrests are closed to him exactly as a result of the ones arrests.

“Our prosecutors tried to have interaction him in quite a lot of diversion techniques, however because of his felony historical past … he didn’t meet eligibility necessities,” Nemchik, the San Diego Town Legal professional’s spokeswoman, wrote. “Eligibility standards for those techniques is made up our minds by means of the suppliers and designed to give protection to their workers, different contributors, and the general public.”

When The Enchantment reached out to Nemchik in December, she stated the Town Legal professional’s workplace had referred Angel to the county’s Behavioral Well being Products and services Division. However the Town Legal professional additionally continues to prosecute him. Whilst The Enchantment waited just about 4 months for a pass judgement on to grant get right of entry to to Angel’s 2012 probation document—his most up-to-date—he used to be arrested every other 5 occasions and had two new instances filed towards him.

Once more, each new case information come with warrants as a result of Angel didn’t display as much as his arraignments.

Remaining October, Terra Lawson-Remer, a member of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, whose election in November 2020 gave the board a Democratic majority, presented an offer geared toward figuring out gaps in county services and products, equivalent to drug and psychological well being remedy, that may assist stay other folks like Angel from biking via prison.

The proposal, which used to be handed unanimously by means of the board, used to be the primary of its type for California’s 2nd greatest county.

In a memo to the board, Lawson-Remer cited a up to date document by means of the American Habit Facilities, which discovered that it prices $81,000 a 12 months to incarcerate somebody with psychological sickness however handiest $32,000 a 12 months to offer that particular person with housing and social services and products.

“Other people stay biking throughout the device, and it’s now not making them higher, proper? It’s now not fixing the issue and it’s costing taxpayers a ton of cash,” she informed The Enchantment.

She hopes the learn about will assist provide an explanation for why current techniques aren’t achieving probably the most tough instances. The purpose is to have a last document in hand by means of February 2023 in conjunction with a five-year plan for including services and products and techniques.

“The learn about is supposed to handle—to actually determine—the gaps in our services and products,” she stated. “And there are lots of of them, proper? I’ve heard this from suppliers, I’ve heard this from judges, I’ve heard this from police, I’ve heard this from the DA, the general public defender. Everybody’s agreed that we wouldn’t have the precise form of services and products—and sufficient of them—and a enough infrastructure to fulfill the will.”

“We’re now not development a rocket send,” Lawson-Remer stated. “I imply, it’s a troublesome drawback to unravel, nevertheless it’s now not one thing we don’t perceive or haven’t grappled with earlier than. It’s simply that there hasn’t been political will or passion to take on it, as it’s more uncomplicated to comb it below the rug.”

Jerry Corridor, a behavioral well being recommend and the founding father of Civic Mapping, which analyzes information associated with behavioral well being and the felony criminal device, applauded Lawson-Remer’s proposal.

“I might argue that any day of the week, the loss of information is the No. 1 drawback we’re all going through,” he stated. “If we had the information, shall we dangle other folks responsible.”

He cautioned that interventions for other folks like Angel, who’ve been ignored by means of the device for many years, will value cash earlier than they lower your expenses.

“The purpose is to assist the person, it isn’t in regards to the cash,” he stated.

Will Matthews, spokesman for the felony justice reform team Californians for Protection and Justice—which authored Prop. 47—additionally applauded Lawson-Remer’s proposal. He stated California’s historical past of the usage of incarceration to unravel societal problems has created the issues of dependancy, homelessness and prison churn that San Diego and different counties are grappling with.

“We’ve got by no means dedicated to investment a remedy and prevention infrastructure,” he stated. “We’ve got dedicated to a method that defaulted to locking other folks up—and we all know that that didn’t paintings, as a result of on the peak of mass incarceration in California, the recidivism charge used to be round 70 p.c. We don’t wish to return to these days.”

* Editor’s Notice: As a result of shall we now not discuss immediately to Angel for this tale, The Enchantment is handiest the usage of his first identify to give protection to his privateness.