Editor’s Opinion by Jackie Devereaux
“The prison crisis is over in California,” said Gov. Jerry Brown last January announcing the enactment of AB 109 and 117, assembly bills calling for the “realignment” of the state’s overcrowded prison system. However, this is too little too late. The Supreme Court ordered in May 2011 that California prisons must release high numbers of inmates with the SCOTUS ruling. This ruling came after a lawsuit filed in 1991 by prison rights activists against overcrowding, poor or inadequate health and mental health care won its lengthy legal battle in the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, AB 109 and 117 do a few other things. They also reduce parole supervision and virtually ends any chance of a parolee being sent back to prison for so-called “technical” violations, while giving law enforcement no additional resources to track these newly-released parolees.
The SCOTUS ruling was made on May 23, 2011 and it affirmed an earlier Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that ordered 46,000 inmates be released from the overcrowded California prisons which housed more than 161,000 inmates at its peak in 2006. The higher courts ruled that the state prisons were designed to house only about 100,000 to 110,000 inmates. The SCOTUS ruling said the state was operating at 200 percent over its design limit and ordered a 137 percent reduction in prison inmate population by June 27, 2013. Does anyone have a calculator? How many inmates is that exactly? Does any this make you feel good?
I have a lot of questions about this ruling and you should too. What kind of offenders are being released? Are they violent criminals, murderers, sex offenders, or serial rapists? And where exactly are they going? They say to the county they were arrested and convicted in? Oh great, Riverside County is the fourth largest county in California and the fastest growing county in the state. You do the math. How many thousands of these inmates are already here?
Unfortunately, Gov. Brown’s January 2012 hope of regaining control of the state prison system has no chance of succeeding. Why? Because after the high court ruling, the state was forced to immediately start transferring many low-level prisoners to out-of-state prisons, but others were released to our local county jails.
The SCOTUS ruling cited inadequate medical and mental health care within the state’s prisons saying they grossly failed under guidelines protected by the U.S. Constitution. In essence, because of overcrowding and inadequate care, federal courts took over control of our state prisons and ordered the release of up to 60,000 inmates by the end of June 2013. The good news is that there are less than 119,000 inmates, leaving only another 9,000 inmates left to be released throughout the state by the end of June.
Other questions loom large. How do we integrate these inmates back into society? And where are we going to get the money to do that? Local law enforcement has their hands full these days. Just when our local cops got control of our streets, the state, or more accurately, the feds decided to let our criminals out. How does this cut down the level of police protection for Average Good Citizen Joe? How are the cops supposed to combat these overwhelming numbers?
Isn’t this just another Band-aid effect? What will happen to these newly-released inmates when they commit another crime? Will they go to county jail, and then get released again?
I can see why Gov. Brown wants to end the feds control of the state’s prisons because he’s lost control of all that money. Brown claims the state could save millions by cancelling those out-of-state prison contracts which he says is “wasting a lot of money on nonsense.”
What’s the solution? The Americans for Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants sentencing reforms for low-level, non-violent crimes such as marijuana and other street drug possession. This would alleviate prison overcrowding and save the state millions in prosecution fees.
Today, California spends more than $8 billion on prisons yearly, the third-largest piece of the pie in the state’s budget, behind both public schools and health care.
Why are we spending more on prison care than schools and basic health care? It’s time “We the People” vote out the jokers who voted all this in. It’s time “We the People” yelled back that “we’re not going to take it anymore.” We’re voting you out and voting in people who will look out for our best interests instead of their best interests.
Gov. Brown didn’t start this problem, but I think our police ranks need help to combat what the feds have mandated to the state. If our cops got the money, the extra manpower and the resources to deal with this ruling, then perhaps we can get our streets safe again. Until then, I’m worried about what’s going to happen.