Saturday, April 5, 2008

California prisons rocked by problems

A stabbing attack this week on four guards at one overcrowded state prison and a racially sparked brawl at another mark the type of violence that guards, inmates' attorneys and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have been worried about for years.


Let's place blame for the situation in today's prisons and jails where it belongs - on us. We believed the media who told us crime was increasing and that rehabilitation had failed in the 1970s and 80s. We believed politicians who announced new get tough on crime policies such as mandatory minimums and spartan prison environments. We've let ideology triumph over rationality for the past several decades. We have become indifferent to the plight of those with mental health and drug addiction issues and stood by the the government criminalized these behaviors. The courts have taken a hands-off approach to prisons and jails, and we have let them.

Now we are about to reap a bitter harvest. 20 years ago, we had about 700,000 people in prison. That number will be released from prison this year as the population has skyrocketed.

When will we learn from past lessons and demand rationality from policy makers, judges, and prosecutors?

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