California's refusal to reduce its prison population is a sign of deeper problems

California has triple-bunked its prison gyms and common areas rather than reducing its population of inmates.

California just doesn’t get it when it comes to criminal justice. We have among the highest incarceration rates in the world (just below Russia's, and about four times the European average); our prisons eat up far too much of our state budget; they are shamefully overcrowded, secretive, and inhumane; yet politicians from Gov. Jerry Brown on down refuse to show the courage or leadership to try a different approach.

When the conservative-dominated US Supreme Court — which on Friday upheld the lower court requirement that California reduce its prison population by 10,000 by the end of the year — is more progressive and enlightened than California’s leaders, you know there’s something seriously wrong here.

Rather than finally doing the right thing and complying with court orders to reduce a population that is still more than 43 percent over design capacity — despite reducing the population by 46,000 since 2006 because of court orders related to woefully inadequate health care in prisons — Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard yesterday responded to last week’s news by saying he will send more inmates to prisons in other states, at a high cost to California taxpayers.

What’s wrong with these people?!?! California prisons already lock up 124,363 people as of July 31, with another 8,959 inmates locked up in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma prisons at our expense. Tens of thousands more have been sent back to county jails under the state’s Realignment policies (which San Francisco, to the credit of its progressive approach to criminal justice, has managed to absorb and still reduce our jail population, thanks to smart alternatives to incarceration). And yet state officials still can’t get our prisons back to anywhere close to their design capacity?!?!

Of course, doing so would require rethinking decades of mindless “tough-on-crime” legislation that swelled our prison population. They’d probably also need to address the gutting of reentry and rehabilitation programs in the state, as well as conditions in some prisons that drive inmates mad (the subject of an onoing prison hunger strike). And they might even need to reform an economic system that is squeezing those on the bottom — sowing widespread economic insecurity that drives even law-abiding citizens to contemplate desperate measures —  just to maintain the wasteful churn of modern capitalism and the obscenely inequitable concentration of wealth at the top.

Hmm, I do believe that I’m starting to understand the motivations of our elected officials after all, those guardians of status quo power and privilege from both major parties. But if we’re ever going to move toward justice and sustainability, California’s prison system is probably a good place to start. 


"Hmm, I do believe that I’m starting to understand the motivations of our elected officials after all, those guardians of status quo power and privilege from both major parties."

You're STARTING TO UNDERSTAND? WTF has taken you so long? I've understood this since 2000. It's the same at all levels of government, especially the parasites at the federal level from both major purified, rotted, walking-corpse-like, septic corporatist parties who are the bourgeois elite "privileged." Ugh.

On another topic: Sorry to see comments back on. They weren't even off a week. Then what was the point of turning them off? And reading the other thread with something like 65 comments so far, I see nothing has changed (why would it?). Just dysfunctional juvenile people who like to argue with each other, accomplishing nothing. The first comment was that always-top-poster/pro-corporatist sour "Guest." No one writes the garbage that person does. That right-wing piece must have a robot to alert it to anything new posted on this site, even to when comments are turned back on. Or they sit there and hit refresh over and over, for hours at a time. Does it ever sleep? I'm surprised it is not the first comment here on this thread. Clearly an oversight on its' part. Amazing.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 06, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

Maybe get some sleep?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 06, 2013 @ 11:38 pm

Oh I see you finally made it over here, sour one. Did your robot crash (you get what you pay for!) preventing you from top-posting over here? Pity. How are things in Los Ángeles tonight? Do try to get some sleep because the next BG article may be posted early and we all know that you have to be the very first to spam that with your usual hateful and sour cut-paste comments.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 3:48 am

Makes sense, because he did get paid for posting here.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 5:07 am

I'm the real Guest. You're not the real Guest. Get a new handle.

Seriously, it is time to set up a registration system here.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:45 am

I repudiate your allegation.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:48 am

I am Guest.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 5:39 pm

WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching for 1

Posted by China and Hong Kong on Wikipedia on Aug. 04, 2014 @ 3:45 pm

major reason why we have so many in prison. So it's the will of the people that these folks go to prison and not just of our government.

Sending them out of State makes evident sense. They are building a lot of prisons in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas that can house spare capacity. The last thing I want is for all those felons to be back on the street, because the recidivism rate is very high among these hardcore criminals.

Sorry, Steven, but I sleep at night a little better because our felons are all in prison, then that over-rides the extra cost, especially as the new privately-built and run prisons are much cheaper,

Posted by Guest on Aug. 06, 2013 @ 10:53 pm

The incarceration rate list you link to doesn't include prisoners in jails. When all prisoners are included, we're actually higher than Russia, and all other nations in the world for that matter. Here's a link to the list you should have used:

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 12:21 am

are more successful. A high incarceration rate reflects a high conviction rate. You want criminals to be convicted, don't you Greg?

Oh no, wait, you don't.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 1:30 am

Show me a country where the prosecutors are most successful (i.e., win 90% of their cases), and I'll show you a country where repression rules.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 7:27 am

than it does about the topic. You are essentially claiming that those who convict felons are "repressive". What else would I expect from an anti-police, pro-criminal bigot?

Posted by anon on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 7:41 am

If you came down from Mars, and you have absolutely no preconceived notions, and you looked at different countries' criminal justice systems, and you saw that some incarcerate far more of their citizens than others. Some spend vastly more on cops and jails. Some have relatively balanced outcomes while in others the government nearly always wins its case and prosecutors boast they have 90% or 95% conviction rates.

Well if you were truly unbiased, you might think, ok, homo sapiens are homo sapiens; there shouldn't be any difference in a homo sapien's propensity to do bad things on one piece of dirt vs. on another piece of dirt... except for the way the surrounding society is organized. So if one country imprisons vastly more people, spends vastly more on cops and jails, and the government nearly always wins convictions, a truly unbiased observer would conclude that this country is repressive compared to others.

Only a biased observer would look for excuses to justify such data. But all these excuses require some pretty amazing mental acrobatics. The most common one I hear is that there are just more criminals in America, which requires an unfathomable level of anti-American hatred; this excuse essentially says that the American people are the most evil, most violent people on the face of the planet by nature.

You put a new twist on this excuse by claiming that it's just because our justice system is so successful. But this excuse is so shockingly stupid that one doesn't even know where to begin to tear it apart. Are we *really* incarcerating SEVEN times as many of our citizens as Canada because our cops and prosecutors are SEVEN times as good as the ones up north? Are Canadian cops and prosecutors really that incompetent... or is it just that we imprison more people for more things for longer periods of time? ...Not to mention that "success" is a strange measure of evaluating a criminal justice system. Russian and Cuban prosecutors seem very successful too, by the standards of the world. So they must be very good at what they do, by your definition. Of course our own cops and prosecutors are even more successful, by your definition. But is success of the cops and prosecutors really the best measure of evaluating the efficacy of a criminal justice system?

What is success to me? To me, "success" of a criminal justice system is when few people are hurting other people, but the justice system is successful in apprehending those who are, and finds a way to deal with them in such a way as to minimize the phenomenon. And notice I didn't say "committing crimes." You can organize society in such a way that nearly everything is a crime. That makes for more criminals and higher prison populations, but it doesn't necessarily focus on what's important to me -keeping people from hurting each other.

But I'm looking at the data from a neutral perspective. The numbers are, what they are. You are the one showing an unbelievable bias by defending the indefensible.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:31 am

any serious idea of how downright weird and incredible that sounds?

Look, we all know you love criminals and hate cops. I don't need to be from another planet to know that. But do you have any clue how out of touch that is with the view of the average American? Or even the average Californian who, let me remind you, has almost never failed to support ever stronger implementations of the three strikes rule?

Clue. We want out bad guys locked up. Forever.

Posted by anon on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:43 am

When you resort to cheap rhetorical talking points and clichés, I think it's pretty clear that you've effectively conceded the debate.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:50 am

Step back and think about how weird that sounds.

Anyway the reason our prison population is high is because we have a lot of criminals. The voters don't want them released so what are we supposed to do?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 10, 2013 @ 1:35 am

Fastidious answer back in return of this matter with firm arguments and telling the whole thing concerning that.

Posted by The Holly Bush on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

We don't want people whom the state considers criminals convicted: most of these people did not harm anyone; they committed so-called "victimless crimes" which are not crimes at all. (Just because the state considers something a crime, it doesn't mean it's a crime. For instance, being a Jew or married to one in Nazi Germany, or assisting a slave in running away in 1800s USA. Were these crimes?)

On the other hand, it would be nice to see real criminals convicted: those that violate people's natural rights. Cops and politicians.

Posted by CA on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 10:02 pm

As a country, we definitely have the world's highest incarceration rates, Greg, but the data I saw was that just California is slightly below the #2 country, Russia. Either way, this is a huge problem.

Posted by Steven T. on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:01 am

The list you linked to shows California at 467, but this list shows the US *as a whole* at 506.

The list I linked to shows the US as a whole at 716. Even more updated figures I've seen show the US pushing 750.

Why the discrepancy? One reason is that the state-by-state list does not show a substantial number of prisoners, namely those in local jails. The entire list neglects that. The country list I linked to accounts for those prisoners.

The country list I linked to doesn't break it down state by state, but if the real figure for the country is about 50% higher than what the state by state list shows, then interpolating the figures, it would be logical to conclude that California's real numbers are also about 50% higher than what is shown on the state by state list. That would put us well above Russia. Eat your heart out, Putin!

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:40 am
Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:49 am

Read my post from 8:31 AM.

Why do you hate America?

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 9:45 am

Why do we have to compare ourselves with Russia or any other country? Russia's prisons system shouldn't be our problem. The fact is CA prison system sucks, and sucks very bad. It is crying for help, but it is unfortunate that our government is unable to do anything. You know why? Because why do anything when you can do nothing? Spending taxpayers $$$$ without getting out of the comfort zone, this is the problem of your government. Who cares about budget? Money keeps flowing in anyway.

Posted by Lilian on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 9:27 am

responsible for much of the current prison population. Are you saying that you don't like CA voters?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 9:58 am

Yes, voters backed lots of "tough-on-crime" measures while polls showed they thought crime rates were going up when they were actually going down. Fear is a powerful motivator, and a easy button for certain politicians and constituencies (yes, and journalists) to push, even when it's an irrational fear that creates bad and unsustainable public policies.

Posted by steven on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 10:27 am

and that you are right?

And then you wonder why only 100 people show up at a SFBG meeting?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 10:53 am

Not necessarily stupid, but sometimes a little selfish, scared, or short-sighted, particularly by the standards and values of San Francisco, which often disagrees with statewide voters, as we did on Three Strikes, repealing capital punishment, Prop. 13, Prop. 8, and a long list of other issues. That's one reason why many of us choose to live here rather than more conservative parts of the state, and it's why the Guardian fights for the soul of San Francisco against those who don't appreciate or defend its values.

Posted by steven on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

I thought this was a "Christian" country - not that it would take a Christian to see what a horrible and inhumane system that California prisoners suffer under. Over and over I see posts that (akin to Bread And Circus of Rome in her last days) Americas, Californias, actually enjoy some Perverse pleasure out of knowing the inmates are suffering. "They deserve what they get! " I see over and over in the comments for articles like this. Pray no one that you love gets caught up in this heartless institution, but that is what it may take for some people to learn compassion.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 8:48 am

if you are looking for something to blame, I'd look elsewhere.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 9:04 am

If you notice, some of the least religious states (which does NOT include California) are also some of the ones with the lowest incarceration rates. So the poster may have a point with the religious hypocrisy angle. However, I tend to think that religion is a secondary correlating variable rather than the primary cause. But yes, the hypocrisy is astounding.

Posted by Greg on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 9:57 am

many of these felons in prison and throw away the key.

I suspect that doesn't compute with you.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 10:11 am

Do you want to pay higher taxes for such expanded government activities.?Somehow I doubt it. Conservatives aren't big on consistency.

Posted by steven on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 10:31 am

pay more taxes to fund welfare for other ne'er-do-wells who dont want to work.

So yes, it is money well spent.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 10:55 am

During a tumultuous time for print publications a steady and wise hand is needed at as leader. The Guardian is incredibly lucky to have one Steven Jones in charge as it transitions from its previous owner and editor. Steven is a stalwart of the progressive community, an incredibly handsome yet steely writer who never pulls a punch and who always speaks truth to power. Not just a pretty face, Steven has years of hard-hitting journalism under his belt as well as a well-received book on Burning Man.

It's a natural progression for Steven to rise to the head of the pack in the dog-eat-dog world of journalism but it's a testament to his sleuthing and dogged determination of the truth without being willing to compromise on his principles that he now helms this paper - a ray of light for thousands of San Franciscans and other oppressed peoples worldwide.

Keep up the good work Steven. You represent hope for so many of us in so many ways.

Posted by Steven's #1 fan on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:34 am

No wonder the rest of his staff are young white women, no doubt cooing at his every word. (Except for Marke of course but then . . oh never mind).

Posted by Guest on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 11:45 am

Broad-shouldered, blue-eyed and he keeps himself in great shape through all that bike riding. He's the leader The Guardian needs during these tough times. So many of us are pushing for the success of this latest venture led by Steven. He's a light through the darkness.

Posted by Steven's #1 fan on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

Wow, I don't know what to say, except thanks -- and to let everyone else know that I had nothing to do with these comments and don't know who posted them, I swear.

Posted by steven on Aug. 07, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

Jason Grant Garza here ... should I really expect COMPASSION and HUMANITY from the posters here in regard to medical rights, medical care, human dignity or will a sea of INHUMANITY rise to drown out their BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS?

My money is on the sea of INHUMANITY ... why? Pointing fingers is easier than taking responsibility .... I mean a JUDGE has ruled that their medical care and overcrowding was WRONG ... now the governor is going to appeal some more. Sound like the GOP continuing to fight DOMA. Yes, propaganda, spin, and naturally retirement for all gravely concerned and just dead inmates ...oh, "we really tried..."

Now why do I say these painful things? Maybe because I too have had MEDICAL LAW BROKEN against me and left as the VINDICATED INNOCENT VICTIM for DEAD. When I went back to the LAWBREAKERS (CCSF) ... no one from DPH to the city attorney nor the courts could explain to me HOW they could have my case dismissed in 2003 (C02-3485PJH) with TESTILYING and FRAUD only to sign a confession admitting fault and guilt to the OFFICE of INSPECTOR GENERAL in 2007 for a crime they committed in 2001. I mean WAS IT A MEDICAL DECISION TO LIE IN FEDERAL COURT? I still have an arrest record (never having been arrested before) sitting next to a signed confession from the city for CRIME THEY committed... no EXPLANATION, NO HELP, NO REMEDY, NO RE-DRESS and NO JUSTICE.

Now it has started all over again ... watch over 199 videos of seeking accountability, rational thought, humanity, correction and arrest. Note the CRIMINAL FRAUD with the FALSE restraining order and watch OCC, MOD, HRC, the Sheriff, SFPD, Chief of Police and Police Commissions' MISHANDLING of it.

Oh and if you think I don't speak from experience ... read the article where the byline is "This is nuts: A bizarre tale of the insanity that is SF's mental health system " ... so if this could happen on the outside and continue as I have shown above ... why should the ABUSE in prison NOT happen? I have proven that NO ONE ENFORCES MEDICAL LAW on the outside ... not SFPD, not the Sheriff and the Mayor's Office on Disabilities DOES NOT ENFORCE ADA and Disability Right LAWS as per their FALSE website ... " The mission of the Mayor's Office on Disability is to ensure that every program, service, benefit, activity and facility operated or funded by the City of San Francisco is fully accessible to, and useable by, people with disabilities. MOD is responsible for overseeing the implementation and local enforcement of the City's obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as other federal, state and local access codes and disability rights laws."

Oh that is RIGHT ... the TRUTH and HUMANITY do not matter ...


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