California is one of the most liberal and progressive of the 50 American states. They have led the way to legalize medical marijuana, pushed for same-sex marriage and moved the immigration issue toward a path to citizenship. Californians have included setting up a health insurance exchange model that really works.
So how can it be that the California prison system is so overcrowded that federal courts, including the U.S Supreme Court, had to get involved?
A panel of federal judges ordered the state to cut its prison population capacity down to 137.5 percent by December 31 of this year. We are talking about an order to let some 10,000 inmates out into the California streets. The low-risk list, as it is called, is comprised of inmates who are scheduled to get out on an early release program. It should be noted that Gov. Brown has already reduced the prison population from 200 percent of capacity to the present 150 percent of capacity.
ThinkProgress reports that “In the [Supreme Court’s] opinion, the judges cite California’s ‘repeated failure to take the necessary steps to remedy the constitutional violations in its prison system.’” In 2011, the U.S Supreme Court ruled that the overcrowded conditions in state prisons constituted cruel and unusual punishment and upheld the order requiring the state to reduce its prison population.
The release of another 10,000 inmates by the end of this year has a lot of Californians worried. SFGate cites a poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California. Mark Baldassare, the poll’s director and the institute’s chief executive said “For the last two years, Californians have been hearing a lot about crime and prison issues with realignment and continuing efforts to address overcrowding in prisons.”
The Department of Justice statistics may prove that Californians may be worrying a little too much. Recordnet.com writes that the DOJ stats. “show that while violent crime rose slightly in 2012, California’s rates were half those seen 20 years ago.” Should Californians be worried?
How could this most liberal state of California find itself with such a conservative pro-prison problem?
It turns out that California has become the trendsetter for prison conditions in the U.S. The state’s large size and diverse population includes a history of gang and drug-related crime. It is also a major entry point for immigrants and drugs that require, according to the California DOJ, stiff sentencing guidelines. All of this makes for “a large and complex prison environment.”
As of November 14, 2011, when the Supreme Court made its ruling about California’s overcrowded prison system, there were, “143,643 prisoners in state prisons designed to hold 84,130, 1,439 prisoners in in-state contract beds, and 9,439 prisoners held in private, out-of-state prisons.”
Governor Schwarzenegger and his Republican cronies left the now Governor Brown with a $64 billion deficit. Gov. Brown has turned that deficit into a $1 billion surplus. The California prison system is on its way to being a more humane and financial asset. However, Republicans believe the most important thing is to make money, no matter what the cost.
For them, our prison systems are just another way to reach that goal. What does it matter if it costs a few poor folks their freedom, right?
Richard Andrew is a guest blogger for Ring of Fire.