Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Well, Duh

I'm beginning to think one of the reasons I haven't been able to arise before dawn so that I can drink coffee with the early morning Atriots is that I dread reading the news before I hop over. It's been pretty dreary on all accounts.

OK, that's my excuse for sleeping in today.

Actually, the news wasn't all bad this morning. The US Supreme Court in a predictable split decision has agreed with a lower ruling that the State of California has to reduce its prison population because the massively overcrowded conditions amount to cruel and unusual punishment especially with respect to providing medical treatment. The state must now find a way to reduce the number of those incarcerated by 30,000.

Governor Brown, who as Attorney General fought the required reduction, had already planned to shift non-violent offenders to county jails and hoped that he could keep current "temporary" taxes in place to pay the counties for the new burden. That would be some help, but the time line to implement the plan would have exceeded that ordered by the courts.

The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times has a much better suggestion.

At last count there were 142,000 inmates in California prisons, which are so overcrowded that some prisoners must be housed collectively in gymnasiums or alone in phone-booth-sized cages. Under the order upheld by the Supreme Court, the state must reduce its inmate population to 137.5% of the system's capacity — meaning about 110,000 — within two years. ...

...the truth is that experts have been suggesting responsible ways to ease prison overcrowding for years. One way is to create an independent panel to revise the state's haphazard sentencing guidelines, which all too often result in excessive terms that worsen overcrowding. In other states, sentencing commissions have lengthened penalties for truly dangerous felons while finding alternative punishments for minor offenders.
[Emphasis added]


One place such a sentencing commission could take a good hard look at sentencing is the area of non-violent drug violations: an inordinate number of California prisoners are facing long terms for the simple and non-violent crime of possessing and/or using drugs. Most belong in rehabilitation, not prison. While the state does have such a diversion program on the books, it's pretty much limited to first-time offenders, and the program just isn't funded adequately for ongoing treatment. That means the first-timer becomes the second- and third-timer and faces years in prison.

But I'm not holding my breath for such a movement. The clamor has already arisen with respect to the fear that releasing so many prisoners will destroy neighborhoods and cause an furious up-tick in crime. Justices Alito and Scalia started that ball rolling in their alarmist dissenting opinions. We're still stuck in the vengeance mode.

So, somehow, the state's going to have to find money from somewhere to build more prisons or to pay other states to take our overage. Early education programs can wait, as can health care programs for the poor and the state's crumbling infrastructure.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home