California Needs To Reform More Than Just The Budget

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California

How do you reconcile a conservative philosophy that says government is bad and taxes should be cut, and at the same time advocates policies that put lots and lots of people in jail for all kinds of things?  Well, you can’t.

The original idea for California’s Three Strikes law was sound: most violence is committed by a very few people and if you can identify and imprison those people, you can make the rest of us much, much safer.  But the conservatives managed to turn this sound idea into an initiative that invites prosecutors to decide to prosecute people under this law for any serious crime, violent or not, and technical or not, as long as they have two priors.  So people who, for example, committed a crime as a child, then “copped a plea” to avoid risking a serious conviction thirty years prior, can now be sent to prison for life.

As a result, today California has more than 170,000 people in prisons designed to hold about half as many.  One out of every five prisoners in California is serving a life sentence.  In California defendants have received, for example, a life sentence for stealing a piece of pizza, a life sentence for stealing three tracksuits, a life sentence for stealing a 50-cent pack of doughnuts, a life sentence for possessing .03 grams of drugs, a life sentence for stalking and a life sentence for stealing golf clubs. But when you put so many people in prisons that have their budgets cut year after year what you can’t get is sufficient medical care or sufficient living space.

So a federal court has taken a look at California’s policies of putting more and more people into jail for longer and longer sentences for more and more things, while at the same time cutting budgets for medical care.  The court found that this constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment.  From the article,

“California’s prison system is operating at 190 percent of its design capacity of 79,828 inmates, and the judges said the state must devise an inmate reduction plan within 45 days, after which a remedial order will be issued.

. . . “The convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the population growth has brought California’s prisons to the breaking point,” the judges said.”

At Calitics David Dayen writes,

This is a policy failure driven by a political failure, a cowardly series of actions that arises from a broken system of government. … politicians have played on people’s fears for 30 years and, faced with the tragedy they created, delayed and procrastinated until it became so torturous that the courts had to step in.  From the three-strikes law to the 1,000 sentencing laws passed by the Legislature, all increasing sentences, nobody comes out looking good in this failure of leadership.

Given the fiscal mess our state is in now is the time for appropriate reform of all institutions.  Let’s make it right, let’s make it work and let’s make it just.  That is a progressive approach.

4 thoughts on “California Needs To Reform More Than Just The Budget

  1. I agree that there is an issue that needs attention in our justice system regarding budget. I clicked on your links there, and I discovered, although you are blaming the conservatives, (again) that the judge who sentenced the “pizza thief” was a democratic black judge named Donald Pitts. The man who stole the pizza from a group of middle-school boys with his friend’s help also had been convicted of robbery and armed robbery as well as a slew of other charges, but that is neither here or there.
    I clicked on the second link and it took me to a website that is a big reason why democrats are not taken seriously. After seeing this is the kind of place you get your research from, I am not surprised you use terms like “teabaggers.” I ceased my own research on your post after this because the first two were enough to realize I didnt need to go further. This site posts things like this:
    (From the site)
    CENSORED – [Not the commenter’s fault, I linked to a bad site – sorry – the link is fixed — DJ]

  2. You badly need a blog of your own.
    Why are conservatives ALWAYS so concerned with someone’s color?
    The second link was the New York Times. I think you meant the 3rd. I used that because i had about ten sites for the same story, but they were all videos and this one had the story in print. I should have looked further down. You’re right, gross site and I changed the link to the same story at Drudge’s favored Breitbart. Apology.

  3. I cant help but be curious as to what that link was.
    Look, you have laws for a reason. Ya, a man going to jail for life for stealing pizza is a bit much. (BTW he only went for 6 years, not life) BUT the three strikes law is a good idea, and it has been show to be a factor in decreasing crime rates here. I have seen a crime reduction in my own neighborhood and this makes me a happy man. These men knew they already had 2 strikes, or more. They still broke the law. These people dont care abbout the law and will continue to break it. Our budget is a mess for a whole ‘nother reason, and jail budgets are an unfortunate off-shoot. Criminals still need to be put away. Off the streets and away from my family. I have a great idea for decreasing our justice costs-QUIT BREAKING THE LAW ASSHOLES!

  4. willickers – I started the post by saying that the science behind Three Strikes is sound. MOST violent crimes are committed by a few people and by the 3rd conviction it is clear you have identified one of those people. So to protect the rest of us, put that person away. It could be fetal alcohol syndrome, etc. – the SCIENCE proves the value of this.
    But societies have long ago decided that extreme punishments for petty crimes is wrong. Our own Constitution recognizes this. People sent away for life because of petty crimes is not justice.
    You might as well be advocating just executing everyone who is convicted of any crime.

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