The three judges who are demanding that California release still more prison inmates due to overcrowding seem to have forgotten something:
It was judges who sentenced the prisoners in the first place, and with good reason. The prisoners were found guilty of breaking the law.
A lot of those sentences were handed down because of determinant rules requiring certain minimums for certain crimes. And those rules have worked. Crime rates have gone down, primarily because people who commit crimes have in many cases been imprisoned.
If anyone is to blame for the overcrowding, it is the Senate and the Assembly, which didn’t build enough prisons when it was abundantly clear more would be needed. These lawmakers ignored their responsibilities to keep the public safe by providing enough space to accommodate incarceration and to do it constitutionally.
In fact, it is easy to see the lawmakers have fallen on their faces when it comes to imprisonment, a clear responsibility of the state which isn’t being met.
Putting people in prison has three functions — to punish, to protect and to prevent.
Punishment occurs when the state deprives the convicted criminal if his or her freedom.
The public is protected when prisoners are locked up and kept from committing more crimes against the people.
Prevention comes when prisoners receive rehabilitative services such as schooling, medical care, psychiatric care and addiction treatment.
Constitutionally, we can’t administer cruel and unusual punishment. At some point, overcrowding falls into that category, and the state of California fell into it a long time ago. What is surprising is that the courts didn’t catch up with it sooner.
It doesn’t protect the public to let prisoners loose before they’re ready to be citizens again.
And prevention — rehabilitation, if you will — in many cases should go on after the prisoner is released, but that’s hardly ever practiced.
Neither the court nor the Legislature has done us any favors with this latest decision.