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How lowering California's prison population is good for the state


Though Monday's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that California's prison population must be reduced has prompted a degree of hysteria, among many local opinionators this is positive news in our quest for prison reform.

Because of overcrowding, writes the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, inmates don't get the rehab they need to reintegrate into society. "Eventually mentally ill and sick inmates untreated and brutalized in prison do get out, sicker, more mentally ill and more dangerous than when they arrived,"

Tim Rutten's Wednesday column hit some of the same notes. "Our problem is, as the court pointed out, that overcrowding has reduced this state's prisons to a state of constitutional and human indecency -- and that's a moral and legal scandal. Though it's been quoted with the frequency of cliche, Dostoyevsky's admonition remains true: 'The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.' "

And wouldn't it be better to get to the root of the problem, as Steve Lopez suggests: "Although it's not easy to treat addiction or mental illness, the best policy is to try to help people get better rather than churn them through courts and prisons, punishing them for the conditions that got them into trouble. Actually, a better use of tax dollars would be to treat those conditions before there's any crime involved, but that's for another column."

Beyond addressing issues of how best to treat prisoners, Monday's decision might also get lawmakers in a productive conversation about how best to reform our prison system. "One way is to create an independent panel to revise the state's haphazard sentencing guidelines, which all too often result in excessive terms that worsen overcrowding," suggests our editorial board. "In other states, sentencing commissions have lengthened penalties for truly dangerous felons while finding alternative punishments for minor offenders." The editorial continues: "Maybe the threat of wide-scale prisoner releases can finally scare our lawmakers straight."


Document: Brown v. Plata decision

Ted Rall Cartoon: Hotel California, 2011

Tim Rutten: A prison system we deserve

California's prisons: A disaster in the making

Former gang members don't deserve a life sentence of joblessness

--Julia Gabrick

Photo: An inmate stands in his cell at the Orange County jail in Santa Ana on May 24, 2011. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters


Comments () | Archives (20)

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um, no-we need more prisons! truth is, crime is lower in CA since three strikes became law-crime is committed by the same peopel over and over so if you lock them up, guess what? less crime

and the tens of thousands of illegals locked up shoudl be deported

that will help the numbers...


If the statistics and alleged experts are to be believed crime in the state of California is at record level lows. Do you think it's an accident? It's no coincidence that 3 strikes and a lot of work by cops and prosecutors put a hell of a lot criminals in prison where their butts belong. Rehabilitation? Are you kidding? Those criminals are the same idiots who ditched classes, smoked dope and did other stupid crap in school. Rehabilitation? That's laughable. Citizens shouldn't be scared of criminals being released; they should be scared of politicians and judges who make these kind of asinine decisions. Judges and politicians don't live in the neighborhoods career criminals come to, real citizens do.


Hey amalgamate -
1. no illegalalien is prosecuted until arrested for the sixth time for illegal entry.
2. illegal entry is not prosecuted by the state.

Mike Miller

"the best policy is to try to help people get better rather than churn them through courts and prisons, punishing them for the conditions that got them into trouble." -- Are you seriously blaming the prison for people being in prison? Lopez, you're an idiot. And your movie sucked.

Mitchell Young

According to the Government Accounting Office, there were around 27,000 illegal aliens in California prisons in fiscal 2008. That was something over 15% of the prison population, though the report says that they accounted for only about 10% of 'prisoner-days' (I imagine either some are deported or they commit less serious crimes thus serve less time).

http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11187.pdf , see pages 29,30.

No doubt that 27000 figure is not so different today. Deporting those criminals would kill two birds with one stone -- it would get us around 70% of the way to the SCOTUS mandate. And, if the deportations were processed through the 'Secure Communities' program, it would take away the reason for the ACLU, NCLR, and the Times editorial board to whinge about the program deporting aliens mostly for 'minor' crimes. Win-win!

Of course we won't do it, because most of these guys are in prison for serious reasons, and if they were deported a large proportion of them would be back within weeks. That shows the Catch-22 of the 'Secure Communities' program -- most of the deportees will be accused of 'minor' crimes because we aren't going to deport major criminals.

Unless, of course, we could swing a deal with Mexico (no doubt the home country of most) to imprison them. We could probably pay half of what it costs to incarcerate them here, and provide much needed jobs for Mexicans in Mexico. Win-win-win!

Two tangential points. One is that the 15% of the prison population that is in the country illegally belies the oft-heard factoid that immigrants have a lower crime rate than natives. At least the illegally present subset of 'immigrants' would appear to have a higher crime rate --only 6-7% of California residents are undocumented, they are in prison at more than twice that proportion.

Second, the report above was prepared at the behest of Zoe Loftgren, one of the biggest cheer leaders for mass immigration (legal and illegal). I suspect she was trying to get the state more money under the SCAAP (State Criminal Alien Assistance Program), where the Feds pay partial costs of incarcerating illegals. If I am right, the Loftgren wants to gain the political rewards of supporting illegal immigration while getting the entire US -- including citizens of states which don't encourage illegal immigration -- to pay the tab. But then that's what illegal immigration is all about -- getting others to pay the costs of your cheap labor or cheap votes.


How can you treat mentally ill people that are not in prison when the very same ACLU and USSC says you cant force them to take medicine in the first place?


how can it be good my friend? i just read where two paroled gang members killed a man for his car.


This state has offically gone mad. Now they are trying to convince us that releasing up to 46,000 prisioners is good for us. Lopez and Rutten live in a liberal fantasy land called the LA Times.


Mentally Ill are people who will not take there medication, self medicate on Meth and continue the vicious cycle. Prop 36 has been a failure. An attempt to get drug rehab to those first time offenders. Now its used for 3rd time offenders. Face it Jail is where these people belong so they dont victimize good people in this state. we have 37 Million documented people in this state. Largest in the nation. It takes money to handle these problems. Wake up people


One thing is for sure, they're all gonna get head.


If lowering California's prison population is good for the state, why is the state so stupid to send people to prisons at all?

If the state sends only most dangerous felon to prison, could people like Lindsey Lohan can pretty drink and drive anduse drugs happily forever?

If "overcrowding has reduced this state's prisons to a state of constitutional and human indecency", should we build more, better prisons or just let felons go free? If released felons commit more crimes, what does it say about our state of constitutional and human decency?

Because of record low crime rate, must we release more felons from prison? Can our politicians and semi-intellectual media elite consider the possibility that because of a large number of felons locked up, we have a low crime rate?

Steve Lopez suggests: "the best policy is to try to help people get better rather than churn them through courts and prisons, punishing them for the conditions that got them into trouble. Actually, a better use of tax dollars would be to treat those conditions before there's any crime involved.." Why do people like him get to write a column on a major newspaper like LA Times?

Hey, Steve, I am thinking about getting high today, could you please send someone to help me before I start actually doing it? By the way, Steve, make sure you get some tax dollars to pay for all this, love ya!


California gets what California deserves.


JimmyfromLA: Don’t knock rehabilitation. It gives people the chance to change. Would you rather have me as your neighbor or someone who just did years walk out with $200 in their pocket and nowhere to go? It’s funny you would post your comments the same day 22 years ago I was released from prison, 22 years ago I went into a substance abuse treatment program (and am 22 years sober), and was released when I was 22 years old. Put that in your pipe and smoke it…


You know what is a JOKE? Most want the criminals locked up. Somehow or another the U.S. has the HIGHEST incarceration rate in the world by far (843 per 100,000). Until you deal with THAT issue, that your society produces criminality to such a degree you forfeit the right to call yourself a free society.

Carlene Byron

California's prison system has been the nation's largest "state mental health hospital" system for many years. It looks to me like the angst about releasing dangerous prisoners is a misdirect. Check the jobs posted on the CA Corrections Service website. You'll find "full-time" senior MH jobs posted in the last three weeks at "annual salaries" under $10,000. My guess is that the game plan is to release the psych pts, which just dumps the problem on downtown business associations, underfunded rescue missions, and The Salvation Army.


Only the Times could come up with a lead in that releasing thousands of convicted felons who had not finished their time would be "good for the state."

Put them next to all Times authors, editors, and its publisher...and anyone else who supports this notion.

Certified AOD Counselor

Let the victim(s) of a crime sentence the offender FOR that crime. If there is no victim (e.g. a drug offense!), let the person OUT!


Am I the only American who smells opportunity here? This is the perfect situation for the private sector to step in as there is potential for revenue. Instead of continuing to socialize the prison systems, we need to privatize them! Imagine if companies like Google & FaceBook could use these bodies for psychological evaluation. The state will never capitlize on this because there is so much slush in the system - how much those state employees getting paid again? As always... too much.


Another example how Lopez is an idiot. Let be released in his neighborhood, crack addicts make good neighbors


the REAL issue, INADEQUATE care and treatment of the mentally disordered?



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