Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The U.S. Supreme Court effectively ordered California on Monday to release 33,000 inmates over two years from an in-state prison population that numbers about 143,000.
Kent Scheidegger of the tough-on-crime Criminal Justice Legal Foundation blogged that Californians shouldn't "bother investing much in a car. It will be open season on cars, given that car thieves (nonviolent offenders) will never go to prison no matter how many times they are caught."
The 5-4 Plata decision upheld a federal three-judge panel that in 2009 found that overcrowding in California prisons is "criminogenic" -- likely to produce criminals -- and ordered state prisons to run at 137.5 percent of design capacity. The state's prisons are designed to hold 80,000 inmates. (Be it noted, 100 percent capacity means one inmate per cell.)
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited ugly stories of inmates waiting months for needed medical and mental-health treatment -- a violation of Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. And: "As many as 54 prisoners may share a single toilet." Kennedy argued, "Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons."
Corrections head Matthew Cate chided the Big Bench for ignoring the many improvements in the system over the past five years. For example, the state has removed some 13,000 out of 20,000 nontraditional or "bad beds" -- think large rooms stuffed with bunk beds to warehouse unprocessed inmates. (I don't think Kennedy liked those beds -- he included two photos of them with his opinion.)
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito noted that the three-judge panel relied on old statistics and ignored more current (and favorable) data, such as the huge drop in "likely preventable deaths" from 18 in 2006 to 3 in 2007.
The worst part: Kennedy endorsed the three judges' finding that there was "substantial evidence that prison populations can be reduced in a manner that does not increase crime to a significant degree" and that reducing overcrowding "could even improve public safety." Yes, Virginia, a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court thinks Californians might be safer if it cuts the prison population by a quarter.
As Alito argued, his colleagues ignore history. When federal courts made Philadelphia release thousands of inmates in the 1990s, police re-arrested thousands over 18 months, resulting in 1,113 assault charges, 90 rape charges and 79 murder charges.
Justice Antonin Scalia called the decision "the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history." He likened the decision to the granting of 46,000 criminal appeals. Scalia even wondered if Kennedy suggested a five-year time frame to achieve "a marginal reduction in the inevitable murders, robberies and rapes" likely to be committed by released convicts.
Gov. Jerry Brown correctly warned that the Big Bench might issue this ruling as he has tried to sell his plan to transfer some 37,000 state inmates to local jurisdictions. In turn, Kennedy wrote that Brown's proposed transfers -- which the Legislature has yet to ratify -- support the three judges' view that they can free thousands of inmates without "undue negative effect on public safety." The ink's barely dry and already they're sharing the credit in preparation for the cruel awakening that will prod them to spread the blame.
COPYRIGHT 2011 CREATORS.COM
See Other Political Commentary
See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.
Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.
We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.
Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $4.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.
To learn more about our methodology, click here.