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August 18, 2009

Supporting a plan that would involve "opening California cell doors"

The Los Angeles Times this morning has this new op-ed that makes arguments in support of cutting California's prison population.  The title and subtitle of this piece highlights its basic themes: " Opening California cell doors can free up needed budget money: Rather than playing to fears that dangerous criminals will be released, state officials should be explaining that a court order to reduce the prison population dovetails with the need to cut costs."  Here are excerpts:

Nearly three years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally recognized the "conditions of extreme peril" in his state's prisons and declared a state of emergency.  Since then, though, he has done little more to address the problem than to blame the Legislature.  The Legislature, a remarkably fractious, undisciplined and unprincipled body by any measure, in turn has proved effective at blocking good ideas to reduce the prison population — and ineffective at approving any.

So it has been up to the courts.  The genius of the country's founders was to create a system that authorizes federal courts to act when the executive and legislative branches acquiesce — through sins of omission or commission — to blatant constitutional violations.

The court's decision that the state must cut its prison population by 40,000 over two years comes at a propitious moment.  Because of the unprecedented budget crisis, the state must reduce its expenditures — among which prison costs figure greatly.  The fiscal imperative of cutting corrections expenditures thus dovetails with the constitutional imperative of reducing overcrowding.  Reducing the prison population will also free up resources needed to improve medical and mental healthcare and for expanding cost-effective, community-based rehabilitation programs that will in turn help reduce the prison population even further.

Unfortunately, Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, eyeing a possible run for governor, talks of appealing the federal judges' decision.  That would be foolish.  He should sit down with corrections officials, legislators and other stakeholders to help map out sensible ways to meet the court's order — the court left it up to the state to determine how best to cut the population; for example, by keeping more low-level nonviolent offenders out of prison and by releasing the elderly and disabled.

Instead of pandering to the public's fears, Brown and other state officials should explain that the court order does not mean that dangerous murderers and rapists will be released. Instead, a smaller prison population will enhance community safety, as well as meet the dictates of the U.S. Constitution, common sense and fiscal responsibility.

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August 18, 2009 at 08:14 AM | Permalink


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Tracked on Aug 18, 2009 6:42:28 PM


There is no specialization in crime. The shoplifter can be a serial killer, the burglar a rapist. Most of the inmates are people who commit hundreds of crimes a year. It is very difficult to get into prison. One must try hard by being extremely busy.

This is ghoulish human experimentation. I think the judge should be subjected to it, just like the poor people he condemned to crime victimization. Buy the homes surrounding the home of the judge. One may put 8 unrelated people in each. All released prisoners should be settled in halfway houses on the street where the judge lives.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 18, 2009 9:13:50 AM

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