Reduce California's prison population

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EDITORIAL California must reduce its prison population — as federal judges have been ordering for years to address severe overcrowding and substandard health care — and it should use this opportunity to completely reform its approach to criminal justice.

Instead, Gov. Jerry Brown has chosen to fight this reasonable directive, exporting thousands more of our inmates to other states and propping up the unseemly private prison industry in the process by signing a $28.5 million contract with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.

Last month, the federal judges overseeing California's prison downsizing once again extended their Dec. 31 deadline for the state to cut its 134,000-person prison population by another 9,600 inmates, pushing it back to Feb. 24 while the state and lawyers for the prisoners try to negotiate a deal. An update on the status of negotiations is due Nov. 18.

We urge Gov. Brown to follow the lead of his fellow Bay Area Democrats in choosing a more enlightened path forward. Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-SF), who chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, has convened several recent hearings looking at alternatives to incarceration, including one on Nov. 13 focused on diversion and sentencing.

"I'm hoping to come up with a sentencing reform bill out of this hearing," Ammiano told the Guardian, expressing hopes that Californians are ready to move past the fear-based escalation of sentences that pandering politicians pushed throughout the '90s, continuing the progress the state has already made on reforming Three Strikes and some drug laws. Sen. Mark Leno has also provided important leadership on these issues.

There's no justification for California to have among the highest incarceration rates in the world, four times the European average, and we should embrace the mandate to reduce our prison population with everything from sentencing reform to addressing poverty, police and prosecutorial bias, early childhood education, and other social and economic justice issues.

Closely related to reducing our prison population, at least in term of dropping the "get tough" attitudes that undermine our compassionate and humanity, is treating those we do incarcerate more humanely.

Ammiano and Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) helped end this summer's prisoner hunger strike by holding a hearing on improving conditions in the prisons, including the possibility of abolishing cruel solitary confinement practices, as the United Nations recommends and even Mississippi has managed to do. And we think abolition of capital punishment should remain an important near-term goal.

Brown isn't the most progressive on criminal justice issues, following in an unfortunate tradition of Democratic governors who fear being called soft on crime. But Ammiano sees hopeful signs of potential progress, and he has our support. Now is the time to move California's criminal justice system into the 21st century.

Comments

implemented in a way that necessitated restricting people from leaving (along with restricting the press, elections and a whole bunch of other things).

Vietnam and China have liberalized but then they are emerging as capitalist powerhouses so I am not sure that really helps your cause (whatever it is).

But my idea here re the US was that I am fine with a majority of each State imposing their will on a minority as long as that minority is free to leave (unlike Russia and the eastern bloc).

I'm not sure how far I'd go with that. Gay marriage for sure, like I said. Slavery - probably not as that fails the "they can leave" test. But segregation might be OK, again as long as blacks could leave.

Polygamy in Utah? Why not?

People in a jurisdiction have the right to decide how their society should work. So i am for more states' rights, which dovetails elegantly with my desire for a smaller federal government.

Oh, and if that means SF can ban guns and legalise pot, that's fine too. Again, as long as i can leave if I want to.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

Your property would be collectivized, but you're free to leave. In fact, please do. We get to keep your property of course. Now that would be a hoot!

Seriously though, your defense of people's right to migration is admirable. Of course that right is meaningless if there's nowhere for people to go. Take Mexico, for instance. Mexicans are fleeing the effects of neoliberal capitalism in droves. Except they get deported back. Meanwhile capital gets to go where it wants. Capital doesn't get deported.

Now I'm not a big free market guy, but I think if you're going to have a free market, then let's have a free market. If a free market is truly free, then I'm sure you'd agree that labor (i.e., people) should have as much right to migration as capital. Right?

Right?

Posted by Greg on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 9:29 pm

under previous governments of course.

Posted by Matlock on Nov. 14, 2013 @ 12:24 am

Immigration is a direct consequence of capitalist structural adjustment policies that have ruined the local economy. In the 1970s, about 25% of the Mexican population lived in poverty. Today it's more like 50%. And that's a direct consequence of globalization. Under NAFTA things got a lot worse for the average Mexican, and consequently more people are trying to emigrate north.

I don't blame people for migrating to seek a better life. But when we have nothing to do with the reason their lives suck, we have more of a leg to stand on if we don't let them in. But when we do have something to do with it, then we have no leg to stand on. To some extent, Mexico's problems are Mexico's doing. But to a large extent, they're our doing.

What really kills me is the hypocrisy of US policy toward migration, particularly among conservatives.

We're fine with capital moving freely, but not labor? And then we say we believe in the "free market!"

We welcome people when they come here seeking a better life from communist countries. But we deport them when they come here seeking a better life from capitalist countries.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 14, 2013 @ 12:49 am

because a jury has determined the convicted has LOST that right - we have long established life a right which can be taken away in egregious circumstances. You want to defend death row inmates? Fine. But don't act as if it's at all unusual within our system to consign people to death because they broke a law - it's a totally acceptable method of dealing with criminality and anti-social behavior.

I find the parallels between anti-death penalty activists and anti-abortion activists to be eerily similar. Both are trying to defy the will of the voters - why is that?

Now please - let's fire up the execution chamber and reduce our death row population!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

allows the state to take away some or most of your civil rights.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

They act as if sticking someone in prison for 60-80 years is somehow NOT cruel, as if prison is a refuge. It's not. The least cruel thing we can do for inmates languishing on death row is to execute them quickly and efficiently. Ironically it's anti-death penalty activists who've visited the cruelties imposed on death row inmates through gumming up the process with endless appeals. They're entirely responsible.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

"No rights are taken away by an execution."

Wow. Just wow.

IIRC, the trollish argument was that speeding up executions would relieve prison overcrowding. That's a non-starter, because "speeding up" executions means depriving people of their due process rights. And the effect would be negligible anyway. Only a tiny sliver of people are on death row. Unless of course you want to execute people for doing drugs and petty theft.

So then we're left with prison overcrowding, which is cruel and inhumane. The courts have now ruled that the conditions constitute cruel and unusual punishment, so the state needs to stop dragging their feet and release these people already. Most of them shouldn't be there anyway.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 14, 2013 @ 8:46 am

More pro-criminal, anti-LE crap from Greg.

The courts get to decide who is in prison and not you, thank God.

The Feds can get someone executed in a couple of years, so clearly a quick execution is not denial of rights. States take far too long to execute.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 14, 2013 @ 8:56 am

The courts have decided that California needs to release a bunch of prisoners to relieve the cruel and inhuman overcrowding conditions. Let's get on with it and enforce the court order already! Justice delayed is justice denied.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 14, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

We can execute the ones we can, move others to local county jails, and transfer others to states with more capacity who have been better at building private-sector prisons like Arizona.

No need to release dangerous felons back into our community.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 14, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

and the speedy execution of those sentenced to death. See - we can agree on something!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 14, 2013 @ 7:36 pm

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive deceptions, reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by blihdro on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

this is simply a barricade against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive deceptions, reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by blihdro on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

Constitutionally guaranteed due process rights.

Posted by steven on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

That doesn't mean they get off and it doesn't mean they get a "get out of jail free" victim card.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

Yet people like Steven never get tired of telling them how stupid and short-sighted they are for doing so.

Despite that the law is the law and should be carried out quickly and efficiently. There's talk of bringing back the guillotine - it's painless and quick and we don't have to answer to the European Union for using it either. Let's start it in CA - clear out death row! No more allowing killers like the Nightstalker to die peacefully on death row while their victim's families continue to suffer!!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 13, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

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