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California's prisons: A disaster in the making

May 23, 2011 |  2:17 pm

Prison

Well, we're still here. No Judgment Day after all.

Then again, who needs stupid predictions when we have so much of the real thing happening every day?

For example, try telling the people of tornado-devastated Joplin, Mo., that we escaped doomsday. Or the people in Alabama who were battered by deadly tornadoes last month. Or the Japanese, who are still dealing with the effects of the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Sendai in March.

Heck, there's even another volcano erupting in Iceland, once again threatening air travel as the summer travel season nears.

As hard as these things are to deal with, they are naturaldisasters. Some people, such as Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, argue that mankind is to blame for some of the recent weather-related problems, such as flooding along the Mississippi River this year. But who really knows? 

There are, however, certain disasters -- or disasters in the making -- that are man-made. And one of those hit Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California must release tens of thousands of inmates to relieve overcrowding in the state's prison system.

How many must be released? From The Times' story:

State officials and lawyers for inmates differ over just how many prisoners will have to be released. In recent figures, the state said it had about 142,000 inmates behind bars, and the judges calculated the prison population would need to be reduced to about 110,000 to comply with constitutional standards.

Now, assuming that at least a good percentage of these inmates deserved to be in prison, this doesn't qualify as good news. 

Not that the ACLU didn't try to find some:

David Fathi, director of the ACLU national prison project, said "reducing the number of people in prison not only would save the state taxpayers half a billion annually, it would lead to the implementation of truly rehabilitative programs that lower recidivism rates and create safer communities."

Uh huh. 

A state that's got a huge budget shortfall is going to find funding for "truly rehabilitative programs"? And taxpayers will be happy because having lots of ex-cons on the streets will save us money?

I don't think so.

Yes, this disaster is of our own making. The prisons are overcrowded; we have ignored the problem for too long. But pretending that releasing this many prisoners can be a good thing -- that it will lead to needed reforms -– is silly. 

This is going to cause real harm to real people. Innocent people. 

And what of our leaders?  As The Times reported Sunday, they're allowing situations like the one at the Pitchess Detention Center's North Facility, which once housed 1,600 men but now holds just two.

C'mon, folks, this can't be so hard. We need to keep dangerous people locked up. 

This is one disaster we can, and should, avoid.  

ALSO:

Document: Supreme Court: Brown v. Plata decision

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

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Inmates sit for dinner at the California State Prison in Lancaster. A federal overseer of the state's prison system has suggested freeing the sickest inmates as a way to cut costs. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / June 10, 2010

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