California's prison system near collapse as Supreme Court orders release of 30,000 prisoners

Thursday, June 09, 2011 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: California, prisoner release, health news

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(NaturalNews) If you ever needed proof that the so-called "war on drugs" is an abject and costly failure, you need not look any further than the California penal system. The latest tragic example of this failure manifested itself in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month in which the court found that overcrowding in California's prison system amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, which is a violation of the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, and in so finding, ordered the state to release 30,000 inmates.

If you think this sounds like a nightmare, you're not necessarily wrong. Who wants to release hardened criminals into society? But consider this: Perhaps the greater injustice is the fact that California has so many people incarcerated in the first place - and for what we consider to be far less-than-dangerous "crimes."

According to this report, California's bloated prison system costs state taxpayers $10 billion a year - costs that don't include what is spent on police to capture and process these suspects, as well as all the court-related expenditures.

Worse, California has long had the nation's highest recidivism rate, with more than two-thirds (67.5 percent) of former inmates going back to prison within three years, according to a 2006 report. So much for the success of prison "rehabilitation."

"The recidivism rates in general, while not surprising, are disheartening, and attest to the complete failure of our prison system in achieving deterrence, rehabilitation, or both," said University California Hastings law Prof. Hadar Aviram, in an interview with KALW public radio in San Francisco. "It is telling that the statistics haven't changed significantly over time, despite increased punitive measures. Clearly, what we are doing under the title 'corrections and rehabilitation' does not correct or rehabilitate."

Adds Barry Krisberg of?UC Berkeley School of Law: "People can argue that California has more gang members, or that we lock up more serious offenders, and we can debate that endlessly. The fact of the matter is, these recidivism rates are way too high."

Why are recidivism rates so high, you ask?

"California's parole population is now so large and its parole agents are so overburdened that parolees who represent a serious public safety threat are not watched closely. And those who wish to go straight cannot get the help they need," said a National Institute of Justice-funded report released last year.

Wow. If ever there was a broken system, this is it. Bloated, overworked, understaffed and immensely expensive. A recipe for failure if there ever was one.

And contributing to this nightmare scenario is a decades-old policy that was destined to fail from the outset, if only because it was short-sighted to begin with and has been managed by intractable bureaucrats ever since. Enter the "war on drugs."

One of the major reasons why California's system is failing is the insane national legal policy practice of locking people up for victimless "crimes" like possession of marijuana for personal use. The insanity playing out in the California penal system is indicative of the what is happening around the nation, as it pertains to the war on drugs mentality: as a policy, this "war" has been a failure, and as a continuing mindset among the nation's governing elite, it is failure is being perpetuated in dangerous ways that continue to have costly ramifications on society in general.

"Take just the term 'war on drugs.' I mean, they're not warring on drugs. They're warring on drug addicts and the users and the small-time dealers. They're warring on neighborhoods. They're warring on people who can't stand up to them," said Ed Burns, a former narcotics officer with the Baltimore Police Department and co-creator of the show, The Wire, in a 2008 interview with Reason magazine.

Burns says the nation has spent the last 30 years foolishly throwing money away pursuing an irrational policy that has served primarily to swell prison populations, wrecked innumerable lives for criminalizing personal behavior while costing hundreds of billions of dollars, laying waste to entire communities and fostering corruption.

"We've been fighting the drug war for 30 years. Thirty years of failure. But there's some reason that we persist in this. What is it? We never explore why that is," he says, calling police departments in crumbling cities "armies of occupation" that are "alienated" from the communities they are meant to serve. "That's a bad situation."

Yet the absurdity continues. After the Global Commission on Drug Policy 2008 interview with released a report this week demonstrating the war on drugs globally has been a failure, the Obama administration launched into hard-core denial, bashing - through White House "drug czar" Gil Kerlikowske - the panel's recommendations to change policy priorities by shifting away from an anti-crime approach.

"Political leaders and public figures should have the courage to articulate publicly what many of them acknowledge privately: that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won," the report said. It went on to recommend the obvious - stop prosecuting and jailing users who "do no harm to others."

The 20-page report "says all of the right things," the CATO Institute noted:

"[P]rohibition has failed in tackling global consumption of drugs, and has instead led to the creation of black markets and criminal networks that resort to violence and corruption in order to carry out their business. This drug-related violence now threatens the institutional stability of entire nations, particularly in the developing world. Also, prohibition has caused the stigmatization and marginalization of people who use illegal drugs, making it more difficult to help people who are addicted to drugs."

California is the epicenter of the nation's failed war on drugs. It's "high" time policymakers realize that and try a different, less criminalizing approach - one that balances society's right to be secure and an individual's right to live free from pointless prosecution.

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