‘GET OUT OF JAIL’ CARD: Brown vs Plata

United States criminal justice system flowchart.
American Criminal Justice System Work Flow via Wikipedia

In a 5-4 decision in Brown versus Plata the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court injunction ordering California to release about 46,000 convicted felons over the next two years to relieve overcrowding.

The decision split the court along its traditional liberal versus conservative lines with Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the swing vote between these blocks deciding in favor of the proposed sweeping release of prisoners.  The conservative justices lead by Anton Scalia were scathing in their criticism of the majority decision saying the courts had overstepped their power and put themselves into a role of supervising the California prison system that was beyond their skill and authority and having failed at that they now propose to solve California’s overcrowding problem by letting the criminals out of jail.

That California prisons are a broken institution is not at issue.  The prison system has been swamped by laws like three strikes, determinate sentencing and mandatory minimums aggressively incarcerating people in response to public outcries over violence, drugs and gangs.

But this is not just a California problem.  The Pew Center on the States reports that more than one in every 100 adults is now confined in an American jail or prison.  The Pew Public Safety Performance Project tells us what we know all to painfully that soaring costs of failed criminal justice systems are hitting the states hard when they can least afford it and worse those policies and systems are not solving the problem of crime, violence, drugs and gangs in any meaningful way.

But there is a worse demographic outcome even than these.  We are wasting a generation of people who could have been productive members of society. One in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males that number is one in nine. Men statistically are 10 times more likely to be in jail, but the rate of women being jailed is rising much faster than for men with the rate for black women in their 30s now 1-in- 100. Overall, 1 in 53 people in their 20s is in jail, and 1 in 837 of those 55 and older is in jail or still in jail.

The other problem is politics.  Demand for action against crime is an easy way for politicians to pander to the voters, but the soaring costs of keeping all these people in jail longer and turning them out more hardened criminals isn’t working.   The prison guards union is very powerful in California politics and often has been an obstacle to changes in the prison system.   The problems facing California prisons today are not new but that does not make them easier to solve.

The question is whether releasing 46,000 felons over the next two years to comply with the court order will do anything to solve the fundamental problem causing this high incarceration rate as a consequence of a failed set of social policies, family relationships, and the corrosive influence of drugs, gangs and guns in our civic life.

We know the answer to that question don’t we?  We just don’t know how to solve the real problems.


1 Comment

  1. One of the biggest contributors to this problem has been the wholly unsuccessful “War on Drugs” This alone can account for almost 50% of all those incarcerated for non-violent crimes and plays a large role in many violent crimes.
    By crimminalizing adult’ choices to use whatever substances they may choose, our government has taken the nanny state to limits that cause many of the elitists orgasmic delight. It is all about control of each and every one of us.
    Between this and the constant wars, as well as the fact that congress and state legislative bodies literally produce thousands of new laws each year, we are much further along than Orwell ever envisioned in “1984”. It is not as evident because of the subterfuge current technologies allow.
    For instance I have just found today that a new law was snuck in with the debt bill that now requires all internet providers to turn track and turn over any histories on their customers requested. this includes browsing history, email and anything else one does online.
    We have become a society in which every action is recorded and will be used against you even if they gotta make a law to prosecute you for it.
    Until the people rise up, non-violently, and take back their freedom, this tyranny will continue to be perpetrated on us all.

    Governments Lie-ALWAYS.

    If their mouth is moving they are lying.

    Always question Authority!


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