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April 19, 2007

Interesting piece on California's prison woes

A favorite reader sent me this link to a piece from The Weekly Standard entitled, "California Behind Bars: Overcrowding, unionization and other prison problems. Here is an excerpt:

Surrounded by subdivisions with names like Almond Valley and Sierra Vista, the California State Prison in Lancaster looks more like an industrial park than a maximum-security facility. But the lethal throb of high voltage electricity coursing through its double-perimeter fence leaves no doubt that this is a place one enters with trepidation.

"This prison opened in 1993 with a capacity of 2,200, but today we have 4,300 prisoners, 468 of which are in temporary beds," says warden William Sullivan as we stroll across a common monitored by marksmen in looming guard towers. "I get 200 new inmates a week and 8,000 more are waiting in L.A. County jails for room to move in here."...

Of the many unpleasant tasks with which state governors must deal, prisons probably rank at the top of the list.  Unlike education, infrastructure, and the environment, prisons have no natural constituency.  Most states have a prison policy that can be summed up in one sentence: Get the bastards off the streets.

Over the past quarter century, California has done exactly that.  The main tool prosecutors use is a "Three Strikes" law that mandates lifetime incarceration for people convicted of three felonies.  It's a great law. Since its adoption in 1994, thousands of the state's most violent offenders have been locked away for good. Unfortunately, these sociopaths all too often are joined behind bars by nonviolent drug offenders, technical parole violators, and people who are more mentally ill than criminal.

Tough-on-crime sentencing enhancements, less discretion for trial judges, and the switch from indeterminate to fixed sentencing have resulted in a 600 percent increase in California's prison population between 1980 and 2006.  Designed to hold 81,000 inmates, California's 33 prisons now house close to 174,000 men. Crowding is so intense that 16,000 convicts sleep in hallways, classrooms, and other areas not intended for habitation.  Projections indicate that 23,000 additional inmates will be added within five years, which could prompt a corresponding jump in a suicide rate that already is twice the national average for prisoners.

April 19, 2007 at 04:33 PM | Permalink

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Comments

You should put pictures of this prison on line or on this page....

Posted by: kathleen rios | Feb 21, 2008 3:04:55 AM

You should put pictures of this prison on line or on this page....

Posted by: kathleen rios | Feb 21, 2008 3:05:33 AM

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