Fear-mongering on prisons

Logue and Nielsen should cut the demagoguery and work with the governor to fund prisoner realignment

No sooner had the U.S. Supreme Court ruled May 23 that California must decrease the number of inmates in its grievously overcrowded prisons, than our local state representatives began sending out press releases scaremongering the issue.

It’s “an egregious travesty of justice … that will result in hundreds of thousands of crimes being committed against our citizens,” harrumphed 2nd District Assemblyman Jim Nielsen. His fellow Republican, 3rd District Assemblyman Dan Logue, was only slightly less hyperbolic. “If we just release 46,000 prisoners…, they will reoffend and many of these crimes will be violent.”

Logue was in such a hurry to bluster he got the number wrong: It’s 33,400 prisoners, not 46,000. And even then the prisons will remain at 137.5 percent of capacity, with 110,000 inmates crammed into space designed for 80,000.

Besides, the lawmakers should have seen this coming. California’s prisons have been shamefully overcrowded for years. The current lawsuit was filed 12 years ago. In upholding it, the court found that overcrowding was the “primary cause” of “severe and unlawful mistreatment of prisoners through grossly inadequate provision of medical and mental health care,” leading to “needless suffering and death.” There’s your “egregious travesty of justice”—turning prison sentences into death sentences.

In fact, the state can reduce the prison population in two years as ordered without compromising public safety. Gov. Jerry Brown already has a plan to redirect nonviolent offenders, as well as short-term parole violators, to county jails. And the state already has expanded “good-time credits” to reward good behavior and foster early releases.

Ultimately, California needs to redesign its sentencing guidelines, expand the parole system, make greater use of alternative sentencing and rehabilitation services, and otherwise reserve prison for violent and incorrigible criminals.

Demagoguery doesn’t help. Instead of fear-mongering, Logue and Nielsen should be working with Brown to find a way to fund the realignment that will enable county jails to accept an influx of new inmates. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, the state has no choice but to do its bidding.