Tuesday, February 10, 2009

California's Prison Problem: Canned Talking Points

State Legislatures are a curious bunch.

States have education problems, health care problems, environment problems, budget problems, and yet it is rare to find a state legislature that does not tout "public safety" as their highest priority.

With all these problems, the hook is to create fear among the masses. We must live in fear and react by putting people in jail. This somehow helps us stupid citizens forget about everything else. I rarely see a legislator coming forward with a comprehensive plan on health care, education, or taxes, but when it comes to "public safety, it's easy. More criminal offenses, more people in prison, more talk about how they're "keeping us safe." Remember that at the end of the Bush Presidency the loudest support was "he kept us safe."

So now those liberal California federal judges have ordered that the California prison system must reduce overcrowding by as many as 55,000 inmates within three years to provide a constitutional level of medical and mental health care.

For all you angry conservatives out there, let me anger you more by linking to the New York Times Story.

Here's where the legislators cry foul (this can't be!):

"Relying on expert testimony, the court ruled that the California prison system, the nation’s largest with more than 150,000 inmates, could reduce its population by shortening sentences, diverting nonviolent felons to county programs, giving inmates good behavior credits toward early release, and reforming parole, which they said would have no adverse impact on public safety. (Shhhhhhhhh).

"The panel said that without such a plan, conditions would continue to deteriorate and inmates might regularly die of suicide or lack of proper care."

Prisoners dying and committing suicide due to overcrowding and lack of medical care? I haven't read any of the usual local fare comments on California newspaper websites, but I bet there's those "so what?" and "let them die" comments all over the websites.

And here comes the politicians to protect us:

"The California attorney general, Jerry Brown, vowed to appeal the ruling:"

“This order, the latest intrusion by the federal judiciary into California’s prison system, is a blunt instrument that does not recognize the imperatives of public safety, nor the challenges of incarcerating criminals, many of whom are deeply disturbed,” Mr. Brown said in a statement.

“The court’s tentative ruling is not constitutionally justified,” he said. “Therefore, the state will appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court when the final order is issued.” (i.e., be scared, they're all dangerous, even the non-violent drug offenders).

In the LA Times Story California Corrections Secretary Matt Cate: The ruling "poses a significant threat to public safety because it could prevent the state from incarcerating as many criminals as it now keeps in seven to 10 prisons."

Good job Matt, stating the obvious. Way to go.

"The court supported its argument by citing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s own support for prison reforms, which he has said would reduce the population by about 40,000 inmates." Oh Arnold, you bad, bad Republican.

By the way, not that the California Legislature cares, (the state is broke),
the court "estimated the state could save $803 million to $906 million annually if it were to reduce its prison population."

But who needs a billion dollars in this day?

This is all canned talking points. Any reform to criminal justice affects public safety. There's no new thinking, no brilliant ideas accepted or advanced by those wanting to stay in office.

Just a bunch of fear mongering to protect us from ourselves.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court. Read his free ebook The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. To learn more about Brian and his firm, Tannebaum Weiss, please visit www.tannebaumweiss.com

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