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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

US Supreme Court orders prisoners released in California

NPR reports that a "bitterly divided U.S. Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to reduce its prison population by some 33,000 prisoners within the next two years.

"By a 5-to-4 vote, the high court ruled that severe overcrowding in state prisons has resulted in extreme suffering and even death, a deprivation of the inmates' rights that violates the Constitution and the 1995 federal Prison Litigation Reform Act, as well.

"California's 33 prisons, designed to house 80,000 inmates, housed twice that many prisoners by 2009."

The issue is the law, plain and simple, which specifies what level of overcrowding is permissible. Overcrowded prisons lead to violence, disease, and death, and thereby violate the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishments.

Amazingly, the Court "ordered the state to reduce the prison population to 137 percent of capacity, more than the 130 percent recommended by the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

So even after letting out 33,000 prisoners, the state's prisons will still be way overcrowded.

Given the size of California's budget crisis, one wonders how long it will take citizens and law-makers in the state to realize how much money they waste every year housing inmates who really don't need to be in prison.

Take drug offenders, for example. You arrest a man for selling marijuana and put him in prison. That move will cost you about $50,000 per year. What happens after that? Another person steps in to fill the void and becomes the new dealer. This is called replacement.

So for every drug dealer you arrest, you end up with that many drug dealers in prison (each on costing you about $50,000 per year), but the same number of dealers (and drugs) on the street!

That is sure way to bankrupt a state.

An obvious solution is to stop locking people up for relatively minor crimes. Another is to amend the state's Three Strikes law so that it is only used against repeat, violent offenders.

Of course, in my book, Justice Blind?, I made these suggestions years ago. Too bad people in positions of power don't listen to me.

EDIT: I should have noted this: 

"One would think that, before allowing the . . . release [of] 46,000 convicted felons, this Court would bend every effort to read the law in such a way as to avoid th[is] outrageous result." - Justice Scalia, phony originalist/textualist, dissenting, in Brown v. Plata.

Isn't this an admission of activist judging?

I thought this guy believed in reading the Constitution as written!

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