Monday, May 23, 2011

Death Wish VI: Supreme Court Orders The Release of 37,000 California Inmates

Looks like liberals are determined to bring back every social ill from the Seventies: inflation, an overweening regulatory state, racial tension, and now the return of mass prison releases. In a 5-4 decision (try to guess who joined the 4 liberals on this one), the US Supreme Court has declared California's prison health system to be unconstitutionally overcrowded.

The U.S. Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to reduce the population of its jammed prisons by more than 30,000 in two years to repair a health care system that lower courts found was defying constitutional standards and endangering guards as well as inmates.

Federal judges rightly found that overcrowding in a prison system that has held nearly twice its designed capacity for more than a decade was the main cause of "grossly inadequate provision of medical and mental health care," the court said in a 5-4 ruling.

"Needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the majority opinion.

He cited evidence from two decades of litigation: mentally ill prisoners waiting up to a year for treatment, suicidal inmates held for 24 hours in phone booth-sized cages without toilets, waiting lists of 700 inmates for a single doctor, and gyms converted into triple-bunked living quarters that breed disease and violence victimizing guards and inmates alike.

This is not just bad public policy. It is also a backdoor way to overturn California's Three Strikes Law, which is the sort of popular crime fighting initiative that we had to pass in order to clean up the after-effects of the Seventies crime wave.

What's really frustrating is how little effort seems to finding practical solutions to this problem. Has it occurred to anyone to release into half-way houses those prisoners who are terminally ill or permanently disabled such that they are no longer a menace to society? Has anyone thought of releasing prisoners who are either legal or illegal immigrants to the tender mercies of their home countries? I keep hearing that prison overcrowding is due largely to pot busts and the like. Can't we figure out who those guys are and release them first? And so on.

Two of the votes for this ruling came from Justices Kagan and Sotomayor. (You'll remember their performances before the Judiciary Committee where they paid lip service to the idea that they would be careful and judicious. The mass release of God knows who into a state 3,000 miles away from their homes would not seem to be in keeping with this, but that's the Left for you). I am sure the President who appointed them, and the millions of Californians who voted him into office, will be happy with this result.

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