Friday, June 3, 2011

New Opportunities for Real Justice in Calif. Prison Supreme Court Ruling

The Supreme Court's order that California fix its overcrowded prisons offers opportunities for correcting inequalities. But playing musical chairs with inmates won't work.

The May 23 Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce the dangerous overcrowding of its prisons has left many people confused. Despite the best efforts of right-wing Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito to stir up panic about “happy-go-lucky felons” roaming the streets, it is not yet clear that the decision will do anything but move the legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to do what should have done years ago.

California’s prison system is by any measure a massive failure. People released from prison return to custody at twice the national average, most for violations of parole rules rather than new convictions. A system that once was the world leader in education and counseling has seen budgets for those programs – essential to successful re-entry to society – slashed year after year. Spending on prisons has grown from2 percent of the state’s general fund 30 years ago, to 5 percent a decade ago to 10 percent today, draining much-needed dollars from essential health and human services, and from what had been the greatest public university system in the world.

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