King County in Washington State could be about to get a lot softer on crime.

County Executive Dow Constantine announced that if judges, prosecutors and public defenders can’t figure out a way to speed up the time it takes criminal defendants to go from their arrest to trial, he’ll institute a ‘book and release’ policy.

“That would be an absolute last resort, “ Constantine said, “but the fact is we have a capacity challenge and a financial challenge.”

Washington State leads the nation in property crime, yet car thieves, package pilferers and home burglars rarely do any real time and book and release would keep even more of the suspected criminals on the streets.

People arrested for most property and drug crimes would simply be booked, given a court date to appear for arraignment and released.  Even after their initial appearance, few would see a jail cell until they’re convicted -- if that happens.

Overcrowding and budget shortfalls are plaguing jails throughout the U.S. and increasingly the response has been to go softer in sentencing.  According to Pew Research, between 2009-2013 some 27 states eased drug laws while state prison population has continued to rise, up to 1.35 million inmates. 

Under court order to ease overcrowding, California released tens of thousands of inmates in 2011. Since then, crime has gone up.  Freed low-level offenders are often getting caught committing more serious crimes.

“Now they’re out hurting people,” said Mike Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation based in Sacramento. “We let them out when they steal a car, and now they steal a car and they kill the driver.”

Rushford said 24,000 more cars were stolen in California in the first year after the mass prison release. And now, the Golden State is going to incarcerate even fewer criminals.

In November, voters passed Proposition 47, which turned many felonies into misdemeanors. It went into effect immediately.

Since then in Los Angeles County, compared to the same three-month period a year ago, auto theft is up 20 percent, felonies are up 16 percent, misdemeanors have risen 27 percent and homicides are up 18 percent.

Those results have sheriffs in Washington State worried.

“If I’m taking somebody and I’m not holding them accountable, what are they going to do?” said Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza. “They’re going to re-offend, and that is the concern I have, if we’re not holding these people accountable, they must think it’s okay to go re-offend again.

But that’s not Snaza’s only problem. He has a 4-year old, $48 million jail that has yet to house a single inmate, because there’s not enough money in the county budget to run it. 

 

Dan Springer joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in August 2001 as a Seattle-based correspondent.