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As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Solving Problems The Illegal Way

Looks like California is about to lose a bunch of money:

A judge Tuesday threw out Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to transfer thousands of inmates to other states to relieve prison overcrowding. Schwarzenegger said he would immediately appeal, saying dangerous convicts might otherwise have to be released early.

The governor invoked emergency powers in October when he ordered the Corrections Department to send thousands of inmates to private prisons in other states. Two employee unions, including the one representing guards, filed lawsuits alleging the order violated state law.

Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian agreed with the unions, saying that while prison overcrowding is dangerous, "this is not the type of circumstance generally covered by the Emergency Services Act."


The "emergency" Schwarzenegger is talking about is really an emergency of not being able to fill beds in private for-profit prisons for which the state has already paid. The state couldn't sweet-talk several thousand prisoners into voluntarily leaving (even with the infomercial-style "Come for the bigger cells; stay for the gourmet meals!" videos used to entice them), so Arnold tried to force them out. Of course, that's illegal. Not that he cares, and we see what the tactic is in his statement: he wants to fearmonger judges into letting him break the law.

"Today's disappointing ruling is a threat to public safety," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "I will not release dangerous criminals to relieve overcrowding. The transfer of inmates is imperative to relieve the pressure on our overburdened prison system."

Besides violating the emergency act, Schwarzenegger's move violated a ban in the California Constitution on using private companies for jobs usually performed by state workers, the judge ruled.


It's a standard Republican tactic of privatizing everything, rewarding the prison-industrial complex (in this case) with cash for chattel.

The plan was a think-small approach anyway - try to outsource a problem without addressing root causes, all the while knowing that we'll be right back at the same place addressing the same problem in a matter of years. Schwarzenegger's political cowardice, his unwillingness to spend any political capital against the "law-n-order" crowd and do what actually needs to be done to fix the prison system (by changing sentencing guidelines and foregrounding rehabilitation and treatment, instead of cutting drug-treatment programs like he does in his budget), reflects a total deficit of leadership.

UPDATE: The brilliance of our prison system:

LANCASTER, Calif. - California's ban on tobacco in prisons has ignited a burgeoning black market behind bars, where a pack of smokes can fetch up to $125.

Prison officials who already have their hands full keeping drugs and weapons away from inmates now are spending time tracking down tobacco smugglers, some of whom are guards and other prison employees. Fights over tobacco have erupted: at one Northern California prison, guards had to use pepper spray to break up a brawl among 30 inmates [...]

Sometimes, family and friends are able to secretly pass it to inmates during visits. Other times, inmates assigned to work crews off prison grounds arrange for cohorts outside the prison to leave stashes of tobacco at prearranged drop sites, then smuggle it behind bars.

A less-risky method: culling small amounts of tobacco from cigarette butts found along roadsides and other work sites [...]

"It's almost becoming a better market than drugs," said Devan Hawkes, an anti-gang officer at Pelican Bay. "A lot of people are trying to make money."


172,000 prisoners for 100,000 beds, a 70% recidivism rate, and we're fighting the War on Tobacco. And making a rich and dangerous black market.

Unbelievable.

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