The media are abuzz today with news of a Supreme Court ruling that California must reduce prison overcrowding by releasing approximately 46,000 inmates over the next two years (currently, the state incarcerates over 143,000 people). In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that the strains on the prisons' medical care system were creating a violation of the Constitution's safeguards against cruel or unusual punishment. (Reason's analysis of the ruling is here.) While we won't argue that prison overcrowding isn't a problem, we're still dismayed that Jerry Brown and others in California's government seem to be drawing the worst possible conclusions from the ruling.
Did the ruling, perhaps, lead California's leaders to ponder whether its three-strikes law, which leads to countless incarcerations of non-violent, low-level drug offenders, is related to its overcrowded prisons? According to this LA Times piece, not a chance. Commenting on Brown's plan to shift thousands of inmates to local jails, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said, "Our goal is not to release inmates at all." So yeah, the plan is to shift the costs of housing these folks onto localities rather than address the underlying problem.
And what was Sacramento's reaction? According to the Sacramento Bee, the decision became, almost instantly, a new rationale for five years of tax increases, replacing the tired old "debt reduction" reasons that weren't going over well last week. Hmm; we can't imagine why no one was bringing this up before today. Does this mean that our "responsible adult" Governor had no plan for responding to this ruling while he was promising an all-cuts budget if he didn't get his tax increases? And more to the point, doesn't his promise to require voter ratification of tax increases only make the prisoner transfer more uncertain and difficult (assuming, of course, that the ruling doesn't turn into a reason for breaking that promise as well)? That is, assuming that the new call for tax increases is anything more than a craven attempt to bully the public into submission.