Since the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last week that California must work to release 33,000 inmates over the next two years, there have been many vocal opponents. Most of their complaints are centered on fear that the release will cause crime rates to soar and general mayhem to ensue. This week in the Statesman Journal, one such critic has warned the people of California to get ready for the unavoidable “crime wave”.
The Supreme Court’s decision was based in the fact that the current population of inmates being held in the California prisons results in overcrowding that is equal to cruel and unusual punishment. They said the state can’t possibly provide adequate care for the thousands of inmates when they are literally stacked on top of each other in every available corner.
In addition, these conditions of overcrowding has cut into the state’s ability to provide programming and therapeutic treatments to all who need it while incarcerated. This is just one of the reasons, the Court determined the conditions in California prisons actually contribute to crime.
But the commentary from Debra J. Saunders echoes what many Californians are feeling—that releasing the inmates may put law-abiding citizens in harm’s way.
What Saunders and other critics fail to realize is that the overwhelming majority of California inmates will be released one day, whether they are part of the 33,000 ordered by the court or not. They fail to grasp that if those inmates who remain in prison are given effective programming while incarcerated, they will be released far less likely to commit crime than before.
One critic of the ruling, of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation said that California residents shouldn’t “bother investing much in a car. It will be open season on cars, given that car thieves (nonviolent offenders) will never go to prison no matter how many times they are caught.”
Saunders criticizes Justice Kennedy’s view that prison populations can be reduced without risking public safety and even possible improving safety. What she doesn’t seem to realize is that prison has been proven time and time again to be minimally impactful at reducing crime in the long run. Sure, John Doe won’t commit a crime while he’s locked up. But, if he’s going to be released at some point (which most of them will) things like treatment and support measures once he is released are the true things that can reduce his likelihood of returning to prison.
Saunders isn’t alone but her column brings up many of the same old points being argued by critics of the Court’s ruling. The reduction in prison population will, no doubt, take some serious planning and safeguards to ensure only those with the least risk to public safety are released. But the order is the right ruling and the state wouldn’t be in this situation if they hadn’t tried to lock everybody up and throw away the key.