A California Cap on Prison Nation?

Here's the problem:

California's 33 adult prisons were designed for roughly 100,000 inmates but currently hold 159,000. Inmate advocacy groups say the crowding has led to numerous problems, including neglectful health care and poor mental health treatment.

Here's the proposed solution being negotiated to settle litigation commenced by inmate advocates:

Under the proposed settlement, 27,000 inmates would be released before serving their full sentences and a population cap would be set in place.

Here's the Republican alternative: [more ...]

Republican state lawmaker who have intervened in the lawsuit will reject any settlement that includes a prison cap formula, said state Sen. George Runner. He said Republicans agree that crowding needs to be reduced but believe it can be done by adding nearly 38,000 new prison and county jail cells through a building program approved by the Legislature last year.

In other words, a further expansion of Prison Nation. This strikes California Republicans as preferable to sensible alternatives to incarceration. The money spent on prison construction could be used instead to hire a legion of parole officers.

Prison Nation is the preferred solution of the powerful union that represents California's correctional officers, and so it attracts politicians from both parties. Plus, it's never hurt in past elections to posture as tough on crime. Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty and often try to outdo each other.

California politicians, on the other hand, are unwilling to pay the political price of bankrupting the state to show their toughness. They've tried to run Prison Nation on the cheap, a plan that hasn't worked.

[A] federal receiver is seeking $7 billion in state money to add 10,000 hospital and mental health beds.

Maybe this is the year voters will wake up and demand that politicians be smart on crime.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Work camps, etc, provide an incentive for more (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by tokin librul on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 04:40:11 PM EST

    The best solution to the crowding in Ca. prisons would be to decriminalize pot use and coke use. And drop the mandatory 3-strikes rule.

    But the most powerful union in Ca.these days, the Prison Guards, opposes both those moves, because that would cost 'em jobs...

    Don't drop three strikes (none / 0) (#4)
    by dianem on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 05:42:12 PM EST
    But limit it to what people thought they were voting for - keeping people who have committed repeated violent crimes in jail. I voted for that law, but I was under the impression that it only applied to repeat violent offenders. If somebody rapes three different people at three different times, I want them locked away for good. But prosecutor's have taken this lay way beyond what people wanted to do.

    Three Strikes Is Horrible (none / 0) (#6)
    by squeaky on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 06:12:08 PM EST
    I agree, it needs to be overturned. It is a political ploy for Pols to get votes by promising to get rid of crime. Obviously it is not working. Judges are there to judge, otherwise they may as well be machines.

    think out of the box (none / 0) (#13)
    by zambino on Fri Jul 11, 2008 at 08:42:10 PM EST
    Look prison is big business, construction, law enforcement, judges, lawyers, doctors,transportation,etc.etc. If you get arrested the odds of you getting a job are slim, some meaningful employment is none. So if your not going to employ them and give them some meaning in life? most ex felon go back to prison because living on the streets with no food or water make you want to take something from some body.  the ex felon that is looking for a job is the ex felon that is trying to change his life. there are no outside programs to help ex felons get a job, ya,sure there this thing that if an employer hire an ex felon he gets a tax brake, try explaining that to the interviewer, if you get that far. my point is if you are an ex felon their is no need to apply. this is the policy with most all employers.  Brother do you got a dime?

    The Republican Plan (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by samtaylor2 on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 06:27:31 PM EST
    It to lock us as many minority voters as possible.

    I was listening to NPR a few weeks ago and someone was talking about a book about slavery after slavery, where they just arrested blacks for the most minor things and put them in slavery/ work camps.  Unfortunately, I missed the name of the book.  Anyone know what I am talking about?

    Perhaps this new release: (none / 0) (#9)
    by wurman on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 08:48:53 PM EST
    Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (Hardcover - March 25, 2008)

    That is it (none / 0) (#10)
    by samtaylor2 on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 09:54:50 AM EST

    A no-brainer on prisoner programs. (none / 0) (#1)
    by wurman on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 01:39:55 PM EST
    Work camps.

    Move the non-violent prisoners to stockade-type enclosures where they can accomplish meaningful tasks in State Forests, National Parks, & various public venues.  The idea of serving prison sentences in the modern equivalent of dungeons is medieval.  It leads to ill health, depression, & is a dis-incentive to rehabilitation.

    Grant them large incentives to stay put at the job-site, do the work, & acquire a sense of dignity.

    And impose really large penalties for attempted, or successful, escapes so that it isn't even worth it to try.

    They already exist (none / 0) (#3)
    by cmuncey on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 04:43:38 PM EST
    There already are 42 such camps for state prisoners in California.  Most of them are run jointly with California Department of Forestry (CDF) firefighting and 5 are run jointly with the LA County Fire Department.  They already provide thousands of firefighters now, along with other conservation work.  The fire departments at some other facilities are also inmate staffed, and usually provide the fire coverage for the area around the facility.  Other minimum security prisoners work on projects near their facilities.  

    For example, a good chunk of country around Chowchilla in the Central Valley, including one sectioh of a freeway, is handled quite professionally by women from Central California Women's Facility.  There is rarely a shortage of applicants for this kind of work, and the inmates take a great deal of pride in what they accomplish.

    Generally, CDCR is already trying most of the obvious ideas, and often has been for years.  A big part of the problem is not lack of imagination, but trying to incarcerate too many people.  And for that you have to look somewhere beyond CDCR.


    Wow. I was aware of Chowchilla. (none / 0) (#5)
    by wurman on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 06:01:41 PM EST
    I didn't realize there were so many others.

    It's clear then that some other issue precludes doing enough, quickly enough.

    The "difficulty" for me is perceiving 59,000 excess prisoners as an insurmountable problem.  An old military installation could be pressed into service in a matter of weeks.  Two or 3 of them would not be that much more difficult or take that much longer.

    It may also be that the bad folks are a lot "badder" than I imagine & the degrees of necessary control are beyond my concept.


    Where will they get the staff (none / 0) (#8)
    by JSN on Sat Jun 21, 2008 at 08:18:55 PM EST
    for these new prisons? I just checked the CA DOC web page and they say they have thousands of openings for correction and peace officers. I believe they have the highest pay scale in the country so if they have unfilled jobs finding qualified candidates must be tough.

    It is a dangerous job and overcrowding makes it more dangerous not to mention racial tensions resulting from reintegration.

    Stop the "War on Drugs" (none / 0) (#11)
    by splashy on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 09:46:31 PM EST
    The problem would be solved just about immediately. Let everyone out that has been put in for possession  or dealing, that hasn't done anything else like violent behavior or stealing.

    Voilà! No more overcrowding, and you would have a better system, actually protecting us.

    "possession or dealing" (none / 0) (#12)
    by diogenes on Sun Jun 22, 2008 at 10:05:03 PM EST
    Given the "no-snitch" attitudes and threats against witnesses, often the only conviction you can get against a known violent drug dealer is possession.  Sort of like Al Capone and tax evasion.  If you really want to LEGALIZE meth, cocaine, etc (thus not needing prisons for violent gang members who steal, protect turf, etc), then that's another debate.