Stop the fearmongering

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

“I fear that there will be murders, there will be rapes, there will be assaults, there will be unnamed and unnumbered crimes in my home state as a direct result of today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said local Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, on Capitol Hill.

Please. 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.

In the meanwhile, demagoguery doesn’t help.