Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jerry Brown's Plan to Cut California's Prison Population

As he goes to see his physician this weekend, we'll take a break from our usual criticisms of Gov. Jerry Brown and wish him well the best way we can: by pointing out a great idea that he's trying to turn into reality. In this case, it's his plan to cut the state's prison population by releasing short-term, non-serious and non-violent offenders to county jails, where they can be diverted to parole, community rehabilitation, or home detention. Of course, it means trusting the state government with less power, so the San Francisco Chronicle can't be happy about it.

Get well soon, Jerry.
The basic situation for California's prisons is this: for a state that's broke, $8 billion a year is simply too much to spend on incarcerating people, and part of why we spend that kind of money is our insistence on imprisoning people who represent no danger to anyone's person or property. Which is why Brown's proposal is such a libertarian idea. In cutting a fifth of the state prison population, and focusing on non-violent offenders and those with sentences shorter than 90 days, his idea would save the taxpayers millions while releasing people California has no business keeping in state-level prisons.

Right now, of course, the proposal is in limbo because Brown is counting on voter-approved tax extensions to pay for the transfer of prisoners to local jails. But Debra Saunders of the Chronicle is already skeptical. She notes the 2008 story of San Francisco flying drug offenders to Honduras to help them evade immigration authorities, which is a bizarre way to criticize Brown's plan. And in general, she buys the reasoning of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which connects California's tough sentencing laws to its low crime rate. To our thinking, this is just silly. California's crime rate fluctuates from year to year, and things like poverty and unemployment seem to be far better predictors of crime rates than sentencing; or, put another way, why do some states with softer sentencing laws have less crime than California? We're guessing that Saunders isn't really interested in that question, though. For many of California's statists, the criminal justice system is simply a weapon for controlling the behavior of people they don't like. And it's much easier to believe that that behavior is under control if the people in question are locked up tight in a building far away.


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