[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
So via Hot Air we learn that the Supreme Court has ordered around 37,000 prisoners to be released from California State Prisons. So if anyone was worried about Patrick having job security, worry no more.
The short version is this. The state’s prison system is woefully overcrowded. According to the Court, state’s prisons are designed to hold 80,000 people. At the time of trial, they held 156,000 people. But the Constitutional violation alleged here is from the lack of medical care, stemming from that overpopulation—that is too few doctors for too many prisoners. So, according to the Supreme Court, as many as 37,000 people will have to be released (since 9,000 have been released during the trial and pendency of the appeal) to meet a cap of 110,000. That can be done by the release of the “less-bad” ones, or by transferring them out of state. Also, although the order doesn’t presently contemplate hiring more staff, the Supreme Court seemed to indicate that this might work as well:
The order in fact permits the State to comply with the population limit by transferring prisoners to county facilities or facilities in other States, or by constructing new facilities to raise the prisons’ design capacity. And the three-judge court’s order does not bar the State from undertaking any other remedial efforts. If the State does find an adequate remedy other than a population limit, it may seek modification or termination of the three-judge court’s order on that basis.
But it’s also worth noting that as of now, the state can’t even transfer prisoners because they can’t demonstrate that the new place won’t also be non-compliant:
The State complains that the Coleman District Court slowed the rate of transfer by requiring inspections to assure that the receiving institutions were in compliance with the Eighth Amendment, but the State has made no effort to show that it has the resources and the capacity to transfer significantly larger numbers of prisoners absent that condition.
I’ll leave aside the constitutional question involved here. This Court already demonstrated its unserious approach to the Eighth Amendment when it declared that it was unconstitutional to execute a man for raping his eight-year-old daughter so violently it ruptured the wall between her vagina and her anus, even though the same Constitution specifically allows for execution for far less heinous crimes. Sorry to disgust you, but you really have to contemplate how horrific the crime was in that case to grasp how wrong the Supreme Court’s ruling was in that matter. As far as the Eighth Amendment goes, this is about policy preferences and not the Constitution. That being said, I don’t see this as a radical departure from previous precedents (equally based on policy and not the Constitution itself).
And on the policy issue, while I am pretty tough on crime, even I think that this overcrowding sounds like it is too much. I want prison to be unpleasant, but there are limits, and since we are talking about the problem of prison overcrowding, let’s consider a few facts. For instance, there are about 700 prisoners on death row. Why not speedily execute them and reduce the problem by that much?
And then there is another significant contribution to our prison population. Right now our border is porous. If we deport all of the illegal immigrants in California’s prisons, many would come back within days. But if we had border security in this country (imagine that!), how many could we get rid of? Well, according to the GAO, in 2008, illegal immigrants accounted for 27,000 state prisoners. Now ask yourself this. How many of the remaining prisoners are legal immigrants who are now deportable because of their crimes? Thus in theory California might be able to deport its way out of the problem, if only we had some assurance that they wouldn’t come right back.
And that doesn’t have to add up to these criminals running loose in their home countries. We could easily hand them into those nations’ custody along with their criminal records, and let them decide whether to hold them any longer.
But all that also ignores the real problem, which is the difficulty in finding doctors willing to treat prisoners. My cousin, for instance, worked as a prison doctor. He is a thin, nerdy man (I say that with love, but also brutal honesty). Naturally he feared being attacked. But he also feared the jailhouse “lawyers”* who spent their free time drafting legal complains for other prisoners. The laws applying to malpractice to prisoners are surely justified on the most noble humanitarian grounds—ensuring that prisoners receive the same minimal quality of care the rest of us get. But it is driving doctors away, such as my cousin who quit the moment he was financially able to. Assume (as I know) that my cousin is a brilliant doctor, but human enough to fear a mistake would ruin him. Did his departure leave his patients better off, or worse off?
I am sure there are other reasons for this overcrowding and the lack of medical staff that Patrick and others would happily recite off the top of their heads. So please have at it in the comments.
* I don’t believe there are any lawyers currently in prison. This is not because lawyers are uniquely unlikely to commit a crime, but it is my understanding that if a lawyer is convicted of a sufficiently serious crime, he or she will lose their license.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]