LA Times Reports Governor Schwarzenegger warned today that the entire California prison system is on the brink of collapse.
The governor and his corrections chief, Matt Cate, walked through the destruction at a housing unit for prisoners at the California Institution for Men in Chino, where 1,300 inmates rioted on the evening of Aug. 8.The prison housed nearly 6,000 prisoners, twice the number for which it was designed. About 1,200 beds were lost due to the damage, forcing the state to transfer inmates to other facilities.
Just how much trouble is California in with regard to its prison population? Well, there is a federal lawsuit which is poised to force release of 40,000 inmates:
A plan backed by Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders would reduce the prison population by 37,000 over two years through a variety of measures, such as offering house arrest during the last year of an inmate’s sentence and letting inmates earn their way off parole earlier. Republicans say the proposal would endanger public safety.
The state also is under pressure from the federal courts to reduce overcrowding.
A three-judge panel presiding over a pair of inmate lawsuits said this month that it would order the state to reduce its prison population by more than 40,000 unless officials devise a plan to do so first. California now has nearly 170,000 prisoners in custody.
How did this happen, well for starters, the whole idea of being tough on crime without distinguishing between violent criminals, and petty economic crime. For example, 25 year terms for shoplifting – at least in California!
California’s problem – like much of the nation’s – is a mismatch between its harsh sentencing policies and its willingness to pay to keep so many people locked up for so long. A few years ago, it went to the Supreme Court to defend its right, under the state’s three-strikes law, to sentence a shoplifter to 25 years to life.
Remember the fictional Jean Valjean? Sentenced to 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread? We are getting close to that level of absurdity and cruel and unusual punishment if a shoplifter can be sentenced to 25 years – more than Jean Valjean! Not to mention, at a cost of $49,000.00 per year.
No less an authority than the Christian Science Monitor makes clear the impact of having the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world.
Here in our state prison overcrowding is also becoming an epidemic.
Again, incarcerating more people then we educate for today’s jobs does not create public safety – it creates increasing social instability and an unbalanced budget.
The cruel “school to prison pipeline”, abandonment of legal orphans, elimination of guardians ad litem for education, prison over crowding and cutting the availability of scholarships and loans for students to become proficient in tomorrow’s jobs – THIS is not just cruel, it is crazy.
In fact, the definition of insanity used in my profession seems to fit:
Doing the same thing over and over expecting to have a different result.