The U.S. Supreme Court appeared ready today to endorse a lower court’s order calling on California to move thousands of inmates out of its overcrowded prisons so that those who remain get adequate health care, the Associated Press reports (via the Washington Post).
The justices heard an extended argument in a case over long-standing violations of constitutional rights in a state prison system that last year averaged nearly a death a week that might have been prevented or delayed with better medical care.
From David Fathi, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project:
“Gov. Schwarzenegger has acknowledged that prison overcrowding increases recidivism while creating ‘conditions of extreme peril’ that threaten the health and safety of staff and prisoners alike. Our public safety is jeopardized by overcrowded prisons, in which high-risk prisoners don’t rehabilitate and low-risk prisoners learn new criminal behavior. It is far past time to abandon failed ‘get-tough’ ideologies and invest in policies that are rooted in evidence, fiscal prudence and common sense.”
From Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California:
“One of the primary reasons that the state’s prisons are dangerously overcrowded is that California continues to lock up thousands of people each year for low-level drug possession. There is no basis in evidence or principle to expose people to this dangerous environment simply for the possession of a small amount of illicit substances. California must follow the lead of other states like Texas and New York and stop sending people to state prison for drug possession, which can be handled as a health issue safely, effectively and affordably in the community.
“The state currently spends $500 million a year to incarcerate 10,000 people for nothing more than personal drug possession. That does not include the unknown number of parolees who have been returned to prison for a few months based on the results of a drug test. This is a terrible waste of scarce resources. Treatment in the community is effective and affordable. Unfortunately, California this year eliminated funding for community-based treatment for drug possession arrestees.
“People who use drugs do not belong in the state’s cruel and costly prisons simply for that personal use. We urge California to take the logical step of ending incarceration as a response to drug possession, while expanding opportunities for drug treatment in the community.”