Prison Unbound: More On CA's Impending Mass Prisoner Release

Clayton Cramer finds a discomfiting historic parallel in the Supreme Court's ordering California to release tens of thousands of prisoners to relieve unconstitutional overcrowding. As Clayton notes, the legal Left doesn't really care about prisoners. They care about decriminalization:

The ACLU wants California to stop the overcrowding of its prisons, yet it appears that they also want those prisons to be very expensive: bingo boards? Basketball courts? Yoga rooms? If you read the ACLU’s press release on the subject, you can see that this is just a method of achieving their actual goal: decriminalization of personal quantities of drugs (not just marijuana, which won’t get you prison time in California), and reducing “non-violent property offenses” from felonies to misdemeanors.

This carrot and stick approach is not new for the ACLU. Back in the 1960s, the ACLU decided that they were going to largely eliminate involuntary commitment of the mentally ill, and they used a similar strategy. In Wyatt v. Stickney (M.D.Ala. 1972), the ACLU sued Alabama for the inhumane state of its mental hospitals — and indeed, the director of the Alabama mental hospital system invited the suit. The circumstances were deplorable and conditions were indeed shocking, much as California’s prison system is. Some of what the judge imposed as “Minimum Constitutional Standards for Adequate Treatment of the Mentally Ill” did have some Constitutional basis: for example, “an unrestricted right to send sealed mail” and to receive mail from attorneys, courts, and government officials.

Other parts of the decision, however, included a very detailed list of exactly how many employees in different job classifications the state mental hospital had to have for each of the 250 patients — right down to the number of Clerk Stenographer II positions (three), the number of Clerk Typist II positions (three), cooks, vehicle drivers, and similar support positions. This level of detail seems more like a judge substituting his judgment for that of the legislature, rather than deciding points of law. We now know that the ACLU’s goal was not humane mental hospital treatment, but to force the states to either spend astonishing amounts of money, or to empty out the mental hospitals and make it difficult to hospitalize those who were in need of help. The consequences are visible in every major city today.


What's exasperating is that, unlike CA's many other problems, the "overcrowded" prison problem is easily solved: build more prisons and hire some more guards. You don't even need to have the voters approve such an expenditure - running the prisons is an obvious state responsibility. Yet we won't make this basic effort. I'm not even going to bother pointing out that deporting the tens of thousands of felonious immigrants would go a long way to relieve overcrowding. If Democrats in the Legislature aren't going to spend money building prisons, they certainly won't do anything about deportable immigrants.

A common bumpersticker in enlightened CA neighborhoods says something along the lines of "Schools, Not Prisons," which is apparently all you need to say to understand how we got to this point. CA certainly does spend a lot of money on schools. Or at least we spend a lot of money on teachers and administrators. The result? As education spending has spiraled up, actual education has spiraled down to the point where we are ranked at the bottom of surveys we used to lead.

That doesn't even account for even more exotic expenditures like stem cell research, high speed rail, and global warming studies. We spend billions of dollars a year with little to show for it. The end result: a fiscal crisis in a land of plenty with basic institutions failing while billions are spent on fripperies.

CA's problem has long been that it takes that "eighth largest economy" too literally. Its governing class literally believes that the state can act as pseudo-member of the UN. But in living the governing equivalent of a Walter Mitty fantasy, we are letting our state fall apart, so that it's left vulnerable to hustling civil rights attorneys and their enablers on the Bench.

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