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

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Federal Judges Order California To Reduce Prison Population By 40,000

A ruling by the three-judge panel who have effectively taken control of the California prison system has ordered the state to reduce the prison population by as much as 40,000 inmates within the next two years, finding the system in violation of Constitutional mandates. The Tough On Crime balloon has just popped.

The judges said that reducing prison crowding in California was the only way to change what they called an unconstitutional prison health care system that causes one unnecessary death a week. In a scathing 184-page order, the judges criticized state officials, saying they had failed to comply with previous orders to fix the health care system in the prisons and reduce crowding, and recommended remedies, including reform of the parole system.

The special three-judge panel also described a chaotic prison system where prisoners were stacked in triple bunk beds in gymnasiums, hallways and day rooms; where single guards were often forced to monitor scores of inmates at a time; and where ill inmates died for lack of treatment.

“In these overcrowded conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent, infectious diseases spread more easily, and lockdowns are sometimes the only means by which to maintain control,” the panel wrote. “In short, California’s prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage.”

This started as a series of lawsuits claiming that the overcrowded prisons violated inmates' Constitutional right to medical care through the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment while under confinement. The judges concluded that massive reductions were the only way to get the balance right and restore Constitutional order to the process.

It's nothing less than an epic failure at all levels of leadership over the last thirty years which has brought us to the point where judges must mandate reductions in the prisons. A state that is unable to manage its finances can also clearly not manage its plainly illegal corrections system.

This now hangs over the head of lawmakers as they come back from recess in August and determine how to achieve $1.2 billion dollars in savings to the prison system. The Governor and Democrats in the legislature have proscribed various reform programs that would reduce the prison population, change mandatory prison sentences for technical parole violation, and create an independent sentencing commission to look at reforming our draconian sentencing policies. Many of these reforms are desperately needed, would save money for the state and also comprise a smarter, more sensible way to deal with prisons that actually makes Californians safer. Today's ruling makes this not only a good set of ideas, but a mandatory set, given that the state is now under court order to reduce the population.

The Governor's Prisons Secretary Matthew Cate is not ruling out appealing the ruling to the US Supreme Court. He also claims that the state has a plan to reduce overcrowding that would lower the number of prisoners by 35,000 in two years. That's less than required by the ruling. But this is no longer an option; unless they appeal, and it's no guarantee they can, the state must submit a plan to meet the judges' dictates within 45 days. End of story.

Labels: , , , ,