What the California legislature and the Governator have been reluctant to do, a three-judge panel might do.
Today, the California prison system finds itself in line to get slapped with an inmate population cap under a hardly used federal legal process that has been on the books for 11 years. In jurisdictions in Youngstown, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., the caps imposed by the so-called “three-judge courts” under the Prison Litigation Reform Act resulted in early release orders of few hundred inmates each.
In California, the figure is likely to reach into the tens of thousands — if a three-judge court is created and if the panel agrees with population figures quoted by inmate rights lawyers who brought the action. (SacBee 6/27/07)
So, I’ll say it right now, our prison population is too high. We have too many people in prison for drug offenses, and for petty crimes under the debacle that is 3-strikes. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But, ultimately, we should be working for a triage system, a system that effectively balances the risk of future criminality with the potential losses associated with keeping people in prison.
So, perhaps the federal courts can deliver the wake-up call that we clearly need. We cannot build our way out of the prison crisis. We must bake the Bureau of Prisons and Rehabilitation into just the plain ol’ Bureau of Rehabilitation and work on helping these people turn into productive citizens, not seeking costly retribution that really hurts the state and its population as much as the prisoners. We are still stuck in the ToughOnCrimeTM meme. That is what must be discarded for a more appropriate theory that will actually reduce the amount of criminality in the state.