Reactions to SCOTUS ruling on state prisons

California is abuzz about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order this morning that the state must shed tens of thousands of inmates from its unconstitutionally overcrowded prison system.

From Gov. Jerry Brown:

Jerry Brown“The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s decision that California must reduce its prison population. In its ruling, the Supreme Court recognized that the enactment of AB 109 is key to meeting this obligation. We must now secure full and constitutionally guaranteed funding to put into effect all the realignment provisions contained in AB 109. As we work to carry out the Court’s ruling, I will take all steps necessary to protect public safety.”

From California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro:

Tom Del Beccaro“The reason for this unfortunate Supreme Court decision lies with those in charge of the California legislature for the last two decades. While the Democrat leadership has wasted $23,000 per Assembly and Senate bill on thousands of unnecessary bills each year, not to mention wasteful programs, they have failed in their most basic obligation to keep Californians safe by building adequate prisons. Now that neglect is taking the form of the forced release of 46,000 prisoners. It is a dereliction beyond shameful.”

From ACLU of Northern California Executive Director Abdi Soltani:

Abdi Soltani“Reduction of prison populations is necessary not only to meet the Constitutional standards required by the Supreme Court, but also to balance prison spending with other priorities as we solve the remaining $10 billion state budget deficit. Felony sentences should be for people who have committed serious crimes – not simple drug possession or writing $450 worth of bad checks.”

From Asemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber:

Jim Nielsen“The court’s decision is an egregious travesty of justice. I agree with Justice Scalia who called the decision ‘perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history’ This decision will result in hundreds of thousands of crimes being committed against our citizens as criminals are released who will then face lesser to no consequences for their continued criminality.

“California citizens must now be more concerned with the safety of their families. Their government and courts are offering less concern.”

Lots more, after the jump…

From Drug Policy Alliance staff attorney Theshia Naidoo:

“The U.S. Supreme Court was right to uphold the order to reduce California’s prison population. Tough on crime policies have crowded prisons so severely with people convicted of nonviolent offenses, including drug possession, that they are not only unsafe and overly costly, but also a net negative for public safety.

“To end prison overcrowding, California must reserve prison for serious offenses and that requires sentencing reform. Even minor changes to sentencing laws could reap major rewards. By reducing the penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor, for example, the state would save $450 million a year and reduce the prison population by over 9,000. 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.”

From National Council on Crime and Delinquency President Alex Busansky:

“What happens in our prisons does not stay in our prisons. It impacts all of us. The decision is a win for everyone: for families and communities who will be safer, taxpayers whose money will be saved in a time of economic crisis, corrections officers who work in unsafe prisons, and for the incarcerated, who will be treated constitutionally so they are not dying of malpractice, violence, or neglect.”

“We look forward to working with the Governor’s Office, the three-judge panel, CDCR, and others to develop and implement a plan that safely reduces the number of people in prison.”

From Californians United for a Responsible Budget statewide coordinator Emily Harris:

“This landmark decision opens an important new chapter in California’s long struggle over whether to expand or contract our bloated prison system. This is an important moment for California to push forward much needed parole and sentencing reforms to reduce California’s prison population, including for example amending or repealing three strikes, releasing terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated prisoners, eliminating return to custody as a sanction for administrative and technical parole violations, reforming drug sentencing laws, and many other reforms that have been proven to reduce incarceration rates and corrections costs while improving public safety.”

UPDATE @ 1:25 P.M.: From state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is not a great surprise, as it was no secret that our crowded prisons made it virtually impossible to meet Constitutional requirements for adequate inmate medical care. We knew that if we, as state leaders, did not resolve the problem on our own that the federal courts would do it for us. Fortunately, we already have a plan in place in the form of local-state realignment that will protect public safety while achieving the reductions mandated in the court’s order. Today’s decision should end the political debate over realignment of our correctional system. Combined with the modest progress we’ve already made in previous budget actions, this solution is the only responsible alternative to meeting the legal mandate while providing the best protection possible for Californians. It’s time to move forward and implement the Governor’s plan.”

UPDATE @ 1:30 P.M.: From From California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Matthew Cate:

“The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken, and in their ruling affirmed a lower court’s decision to reduce California’s inmate population. It is disappointing that the court did not consider the numerous improvements made in health-care delivery to inmates in the past five years, as well as the significant reduction in the inmate population.

“California’s inmate population has been reduced to levels not seen since 1995, and non-traditional beds have been eliminated by nearly 13,000. We’ve come a long way in both population reduction measures and in the quality of care given to inmates.

“To meet this order, CDCR cannot act alone. It will take cooperation from all facets of state and local government. We particularly need the support and cooperation of the Legislature with the immediate funding and implementation of AB 109, the Public Safety Realignment plan signed by Governor Brown on April 4. The Governor has repeatedly called for full and constitutionally protected funding of this bill to allow certain offenders to serve their incarceration and parole term under local supervision.

“We appreciate that the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that it may be warranted for the State to request that the district court modify its population reduction order – including establishment of more appropriate timeframes, if necessary, to implement inmate reduction proposals as safely as possible – or to request termination of ongoing injunctive relief.”

UPDATE @ 3:19 P.M.: From state Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who also chairs the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary:

“Our prison system is an expensive failure which has now been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Overcrowding makes rehabilitation very difficult and has led to a recidivism rate of about 70 percent. Yet California has cut spending on prison education and rehabilitation programs to roughly half of what was spent two years ago. Research shows that these programs significantly reduce criminal behavior and recidivism rates.”

“Today we’re not tough on crime; we’re tough on the taxpayer. Every time we spend money on prisons, we drain money from having more police officers on the street, more job training, more education, more of the things that would truly make for safer communities.

“Fortunately, Governor Brown has started us on the path to prison reform. His public safety realignment plan will steer an entirely new course. It will reduce prison overcrowding and achieve a constitutional and humane level of medical and mental health treatment in our prisons, and it will lower prison costs and improve public safety.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • John W

    Conventional wisdom would say the state complies by releasing those convicted of the least violent, least predatory crimes, and those with little time remaining on their sentences. Another approach would be to release those in greatest need of expensiive medical care, with a bus ticket to Texas. Solves both prison over-population and high prison health care costs.

  • rew

    California was spending 11.2% of budget on corrections, even though national spending per state on corrections averages 7.2%, according to Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters. Clearly we can incarcerate cheaper, we need to get our state’s spending on prison’s in line with other states. Republicans always complaining about spending, here’s a place you can make cuts but they are balking. Republicans always claiming they believe in fisical conservatism and controlling spending but when it comes to prisons they don’t care how much it costs. Right now we are spending 50,000 per inmate, health care alone for inmates 2 billion a year, we are forced by law to give inmates a “health plan”, when 30% of the working poor have no health care whatsoever. It just ridiculous, we need to cut spending on prisons, every poll says that’s what public wants, but Republicans like Nielsen want to keep this prison-indisrial complex we have churning along even though state budget awash in red ink.