A Call For Prison Reform

by TChris

Courts can't solve the problems spawned by legislatures, but sometimes they can force improvements. As TalkLeft reported, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson is using receivership to force California to correct its woeful administration of prison health care.

This happened after shocking testimonies given by two investigative physicians, each with 20-years-plus experience, who compared California's medical crisis to that of Angola, one of the worst prisons in the country. Both physicians stated that in all their decades in practice in correctional settings, they had "never seen such callousness and gross incompetence so widespread." They reported scores of preventable deaths verified from the medical records. At least 64 more per year are predicted to happen until the bureaucratic mess is cleaned up.

As Cayenne Bird explains, the problem isn't caused by a lack of money. It's caused by politicians who adopted a "lock 'em up" mentality with no thought to the consequences of ever-increasing prison populations.

The core of the problem is severe overcrowding. We simply have too many people in prison. But nobody in the Legislature or those on boards and commissions will admit it.

One solution--early release for prisoners who are too ill to threaten society--has been ignored.

Even though state murder by medical neglect is common, it is still an unthinkable remedy to grant compassionate release for terminal illness way past the time that anyone is a danger to society.

Providing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders is another sensible solution to prison overcrowding. But don't count on sensible solutions from lawmakers who listen to lobbyists for the prison industry.

That's because most of the callous people who block this reform were put into office by law enforcement labor unions so they could serve their interests, not the interests of the people. And certainly not the interests of the 3 million people who are connected to the state's inmates. This number doesn't include the family members of those in jails, federal prisoners or juvenile halls. These people are mostly the poor and uneducated who have not organized a funded, voting lobby to the size and power that it would take to outnumber the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. The booming prison industry probably would be much smaller, around 30,000 inmates instead of 165,000 if former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson hadn't wanted to run for the presidency on a "tough on crime" platform.

The time for meaningful reform is now.

< Virginia Execution Tonight - Stayed | Bernie Ebbers Keeps the Silverware >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Re: A Call For Prison Reform (none / 0) (#1)
    by wishful on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:05 PM EST
    The time for meaningful reform is now.
    Three million people plus friends and loved ones adds up to a significant number. However, the "peace" officer unions across this fine nation are so powerful that political organization among inmates is considered dangerous. Frankly, it IS dangerous, at least to the peace guys' financial interests. TChris, can this be overcome? It seems to me that the inmates are probably misidentifying exactly who their real friends can be, and this misidentification is fostered to an extent because it is useful to the system. Think George W Bush's "I'm a uniter, not a divider.", all the while the nation is more divided than ever, and growing.

    Re: A Call For Prison Reform (none / 0) (#2)
    by Che's Lounge on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:01:06 PM EST
    The power of the unions wouldn't be so significant if their numbers hadn't been swollen by the increased demand for their services. If you decrease the inmate population by decriminalizing morally objectionable nonviolent behavior, the demand for guards will decrease. Those jobs will shift (sorry folks, but not all of our jobs are forever-been there) and the quality of care of the smaller inmate population can improve. IMHO