Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

California Prisons: A National Disgrace

The recent decision by the Supreme Court to refuse the government of California, headed by Governor Moonbeam himself, the illustrious Jerry Brown, more time to comply with their order to reduce prisoner headcount by the beginning of 2014, or else, signals even more coming trouble for California's beleaguered prison system.  The system is already dealing with an ongoing hunger strike amongst prisoners, who are demanding, in part, less use of solitary confinement (particularly as a punishment for supposed "gang ties"), more variety of meals including an affirmation by prison officials to serve proper meals and cease denying food as punishment, ending group punishment and the like.  Not outrageous demands to be sure.  Coupled with the fact that the Supreme Court is simply mandating California take their prisons down to 137% of capacity, a number the Bureau of Prisons seems to think is impossible to hit by the close of 2013, it seems obvious that a major humanitarian crisis is in the making.

The idea that California cannot, and seemingly will not, get real about their very serious prison problem is distressing to say the least.  Simply releasing all non-violent drug offenders from behind prison walls would be a start, but California's prisons cannot simply blame the Drug War for its problems.  California was a test state for things like mandatory minimum sentences and "Three-Strikes" laws that are now found in other states, and it is these  that also contribute to this very serious problem.  But no matter the cause, the solution is obvious.  Mass incarceration, particularly in the sorts of conditions now found in the average California prison, is not the answer to society's supposed ills.  Nonviolent drug addicts require treatment, not prison-issue jumpsuits.  Judges and juries should be handing down sentences, not legislators.  And mandatory minimum sentences need to disappear because they hijack the accused's right to a fair trial and instead increases plea bargains, thereby increasing the inward flow is prisoners and making the overcrowding problem worse.  The sooner California, from the Governor on down to the prison guards, judges, prosecutors and cops, get real about this problem, the better.  And the clock is ticking.  --Joe

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