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Courts may force release of tens of thousands of California prison inmates

by Bob Morris, published

In another example of the paralysis that is the apparent natural state of California politics, the Supreme Court will probably rule in June that the state must release at least 35,000 prison inmates due to severe prison overcrowding, which results in substandard health care.

Goodness, you say, surely this problem must have sprung out of nowhere quite recently and thus California will be rushing to fix it, right? Au contraire.  The first lawsuit against California prison overcrowding was filed in 1991. The US Congress passed a bill in 1996 that made it clear that courts could and would intervene if states did nothing about prison overcrowding. So, faced with this obvious and clear mandate for change, California has done precious little to be pro-active and now appears utterly gobsmacked that the courts may in fact, force inmates to be released.

Gov. Brown has proposed a "realignment" plan which would kick the whole problem away from state prisons by transferring inmates to counties (he has proposed nebulous plans to help them pay for it somehow).  Obviously, counties are less than thrilled by the prospect of more expenses and frankly I'm guessing many of them have inadequate inmate health care too. Or, if they don't now, they will when thousands more inmates arrive. This is a classic California non-solution, moving the problem elsewhere and hoping no one notices, at least for a few years. They have been doing this with the budget for years, with the predictable result that the budget remains a mess.

Wouldn't a better solution simply be to start releasing non-violent offenders early? And while we're at it, let's toss out the Draconian Three Strikes law and put something more humane and less rigid in its place. I know of someone doing 35 to life on a third strike for beating someone up outside a 7-11.  No, he's not a nice man, and the victim was badly beaten up. But he went to prison when he was 40 and will probably die there -because of a street fight.  It's no wonder California prisons are overcrowded, with resultant high psychosis and suicide rates.  

Greg Lucas covers the legal appeals and battles over the prison overcrowding lawsuits in detail at Capitol Weekly. What I find most disconcerting is that California has known of the problem for 15-20 years, and solutions clearly exist; yet, it has done little to solve it. This pattern is repeated over and over in Sacramento.

Gov. Brown, speaking about the problem, recently somewhat incomprehensibly said:

     "The only question is: Are we going to handle it properly with a plan or are we just going to react, without the money, without the realignment in a way that will be ultimately self-defeating?"

But his realignment plan solves nothing.  It just drop-kicks the problem to the counties who are even more ill-equipped to handle it.

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