California has a little problem. Too many felons, not enough prison cells. In 1980, the year I graduated from High School, there were 23,000 people in California prisons. In 2000, it was over 160,000. That’s almost eight times the amount.
The reason we have so many felons is not because people have gotten worse, but because of three other factors:
- More things are illegal.
- More things result in a mandatory prison term.
- The prison terms are much longer.
So what do we have? Prisons built to hold 1,800 inmates, that are forced instead to hold more than 4,700. Naturally this results in prisons that are only punitive and not rehabilitating. So the dudes who leave, just end up coming right back. The problem mushrooms.
How did this happen? This is a great example of why voters are stupid, why politicians are short-sighted, and why our system should be completely changed.
In the late 70’s there was a “scare” about illegal drugs and youth crime. People were whipped into a frenzy due to statistics that were interpreted to mean the entire world was going to hell. (For a great article on this, read “Freakonomics.”) To pander to their populace many elected officials claimed they were “tough on crime” and vowed to pass laws that would really make a person think twice before committing a crime. And pass those laws they did. Even an intelligent official who may have realized they were creating a problem for the future did not vote against stiffer penalties for fear of being labeled “Soft on crime and losing their pressssioussss government jobs.
And what was the crime most associated with stiffer penalties and mandatory prison terms? Consensual drug use–a “crime” that hurts no one but potentially the person who is choosing to imbibe.
Did the criminals think twice before committing their horrific offenses? No, they got busted, and instead of getting a slap on the wrist, are now thrown in the hoosegow with hardened criminals who should be there. This environment hardens the consensual criminal into an actual criminal with a very sore sphincter.
Since California is paying to imprison these tens of thousands of small-town drug users, the state was going broke. So what did we do? We tried to pass the California Prison Population Reduction Act (2008). Which would have reduced sentences, repealed the three-strikes rule, etc. This would have been a sensible response, but would have made politicians who vote for it seem soft on crime. So no go.
Now the Prison guards, who fear for their lives every day, are trying to give Schwartzenegger the boot.
To the other 49 states … let this be a lesson to you. Laws are like toothpaste. Easy to squeeze out, hard to suck back in.