Ever since the police and related agencies within states and the Federal Government initiated mechanisms for keeping data on crime, it has become easier to deduce the trends in criminal behavior and hence channel resources as duly required in combating such crimes. From statistical data gathered over a period of time; state machineries are able to restructure their strategies so that they better adapt to the changing face of criminality. The government can also rely on such data to initiate discussions that may precipitate to policy formulation, drafting of legislations, and development of the necessary institutional framework.
The state of California prides itself as a trendsetter in innovative strategies in the war against crime. Way before the Federal Government made it a mandatory requirement for states to develop registries for convicted sex offenders; California had developed such a framework in a bid to avoid sex-offender recidivism and to forewarn the would-be victims of such past convictions. Currently, the state has some of the toughest laws against illicit drugs, and an elaborate multi-agency framework for addressing arson related crimes.
This paper has zeroed in on two acts of criminality; substance abuse, (illegal drug use) and arson, in a bid to respond to the question about the most and the least prevalent crimes within the criminal justice system for the State of California. This approach will look at the commonness of these crimes, the ease or difficulty that law enforcers face in dealing with them, and their interface at national and international stage. Finally, the paper shall argue out a case for intervention measures that the government ought to take into consideration as it seeks to fight crime, sustain the fight, and to do so in a manner that is cost effective.
Illicit drugs and substance abuse in California
Californian jurisprudence has some of the strictest laws in the United States. Despite the decriminalization of Cannabis possession; the possession, sale, and development of harder drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine remains unlawful. The latter is illegal under the Health and Safety Code 11377; similarly any possession that amounts to intent to sale is illegal under the same Code at 11378. Convictions for drug related offences can range from probations running up to four years, whilst harsher penalties will be imposed for production of drugs such as methamphetamine.
The main legislative framework for the control of illicit drugs is the Uniform Controlled Substances Act; which has specific schedules assigned to specific drugs. Cocaine and all its manifestations are pooled in Schedule Two of the UCS Act. Schedule one of the Act contains drugs such as Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), Ecstasy, and heroin, while Schedule Three has Ketamine. Law enforcement agencies will, therefore, need to understand the policy for drug categorization and the legislations in order to bring successful prosecutions.
According to the U.S Department of Justice; National Drug Intelligence Center California had an estimated 1,089,957 and 1,286,517 criminal and civil drug related offence, respectively. These were from statistical data collected in 2007. For both the state and local components of the CJS, the estimated cost attributed to maintenance of local jails, state prisons, parole programs cost the nation an estimated U.S $ 56 billion.
On the global scale, UNODC estimated that between 155 and 250 million people, or 3.5% to 5.7% of the population falling with in the ages of 15 to 64 had used illicit substances at least once in the last one year of the study. The study found that cannabis was the most commonly used illicit drug, followed by amphetamine-type stimulants, and finally opiates and cocaine. The social cost for drug use was found to be manifested in numerous ways; from increased risk in disease such as HIV/AIDS to reduced productivity among drug users, and the maintenance of CJS institutions.
For the State of California, the strictness of the law has not done so much in the fight against substance abuse; there is need for an approach aimed at discouraging the experimental tendencies that eventually lead to such lifelong habits. This can be done through aggressive sensitization that is incorporated in the entire school curriculum, civic engagement strategies, community interventions, and church initiatives. The state also needs to ensure that the supply and control of illicit is enhanced by laying more emphasis to the cartels. Most arrests and prosecutions have been about the small time peddlers and the addicted users. While the production cost for opiates and cocaine accounts for only 2.4% of the street cost, the small retailers hardly reap big. There is need to raise the cost of getting drugs into the state so that it is less lucrative.
For an effective action on drugs and drug-related crimes, the governor and the state government need to develop policies that go beyond ‘reduction of drug-related’ offences. There is need for a comprehensive approach that targets all levels; from the (1) prevention of drug-related crimes before they occur, (2) focus on the people who are most at risk of victimization and the perpetrators; and (3) focus on known offenders with the aim of preventing recidivism. Secondly, the government needs to come up with policies that will address inequality and deprivation which have often shown high linkage to crime. This should be a continuous approach for about 10 years, after which results can be assessed. Finally, it should be a policy of the government to consider drug-use as more of a social problem than a criminal offence. In this light, some offences related to drug use should be decriminalized or their sentences be reviewed. This strategy has been successfully used in Portugal where after decriminalization of most drugs, users have been able to shake off the habit; leading to a reduction of drug-use by about half within the last decade. There has also been greater success through the ‘carrot and stick’ approach which is basically an intensive supervision, market disruption and wide-spread treatment for drug-related offenders. The government should also channel more resources (to the law enforcement agencies) in dismantling the stranglehold of the crime (organized) outfits which ordinarily use violence to protect their trade; instead of targeting the users and small-time peddlers.
The Crime of Arson
Of all the incidences of fire in the United States, arson is the leading cause totaling to about 267,000 incidences per year. It is further estimated that within these cases there were injuries of over 2,000, 475 deaths and about $1.4 billion in property loss each year. But what would be rightly termed as arson? The operational definition is that arson is any fire of an incendiary or suspicious origin. More specifically when we are to discuss the criminality of arson, this definition would not merit. Arson is a criminal act where a person intentionally and maliciously sets fire to buildings, vehicles, wild land, or any other form of property with an intention to cause damage. The Californian Penal Code on it part regards an arsonist as he or she who willfully and maliciously sets fire to or burns or causes to be burned or who aids, counsels, or procures the burning, of any structure, forest land, or property.
Whilst there has been a spike in crime as depicted by the recent data of the year ending 2012, arson has significantly dropped nationally and within the State of California. At 6.3% change from the previous records, this was the least prevalent crime within the state. This however does not mean that the cost of the reported arson cases would be less than some very prevalent crimes such as illicit drugs. There are numerous implications to the society that would result from such acts. From the statistics, it was shown that about half of all arson cases were committed by juveniles. This should be a worrying trend because such acts of violence amongst young people would eventually grow into more brutal acts of violence. The burning of the religious establishment that has been on the rise is also a sign of a deeper social integration of issues that calls for attention.
The government of the state of California should formulate policies that will aim at preventing arson rather than developing elaborate investigation units. It should be a requirement that all public places and buildings are equipped with fire risk interventions. The use of state-of-the art fire installations like automatic sprinklers, fire alarms, and CCTV usage should be a mandatory requirement for public, high-risk buildings (like archives), and industrial plants. Attempt should also be made at addressing social problems and juvenile delinquency which has been responsible for at least half of the reported cases. Prevention or minimization of fire incidences should take precedence over after the fact investigations. For the forests and other secluded places that are vulnerable to malicious attacks, the state needs to maintain a patrol unit that would be a deterrent to the would-be arsonist. Lastly, the government should come up with regulation, standard procedures or codes that will be aimed at reducing losses resulting from arson. This can involve fire protection engineering or increased fire protection technology.
Having considered the most prevalent and the least prevalent crimes in the State of California, and the interplay of the same at the national and international stage; I would conclude that the reflections are almost similar in Europe and Canada. The use of illicit drug is however subject to local legislation and policy frameworks. There is an increasing need to develop strategies that will discourage drug use because the law in itself has failed to put any reasonable check on drug possession and trafficking. The cost of drug related social ills have witnessed an all-time high within the last two years. The state government needs to incorporate or intensify illicit drug awareness so that the youth do not consider drugs as an initiatory step to adulthood.
For the crime of arson, though less prevalent, there is need for better investigations into such acts so that those who seek to use arson for insurance claims are caught and made answerable to the law. The public also does not seem to be aware of the cost of arson, to most this would be as issue for the insurance companies. The government needs to raise awareness so that the public becomes more enthusiastic in reporting such cases as they would do homicides and other violent crimes.
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