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.