February 10, 2009

Federal Judges Order California To Release 50,000 Inmates

Oh, look, expediency masquerading as a constitutional issue. 

The story is

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Federal judges on Monday tentatively ordered California to release tens of thousands of inmates, up to a third of all prisoners, in the next three years to stop dangerous overcrowding.
California currently incarcerates 160k people at 188% capacity, and the ruling would cut it to 120% capacity.

The obvious: the nonprofit Prison Law Office-- "protecting the constitutional rights of California prisoners"-- says the prisons are overcrowded, facilitating the spread of disease, there is inadequate medical facilities, it is a dangerous environment, etc.

"There is no relief other than a prisoner release order that can remedy the constitutionally inadequate medical and mental health care," the panel led by Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, wrote.

No relief?  If this was simply about the safety and dignity of the inmates, you'd ask the Obamyth for some TARP to "create jobs through public works projects" and build, I don't know, 100 more prisons.

If it was about a broken criminal justice system, you wouldn't incarcerate people for, say, marijuana possession, no matter how many times they "offend."  If the sociobiologists think it really needs to be criminalized, then make the punishment be a fine, or community service.

If it was about a broken criminal justice system, you wouldn't jail people pre-trial for six months and reschedule the court date over and over because it's busy-- with marijuana trials, I guess.

That's not what it's about.

It's all about "mental health care."   Psychiatry is the new parole.  What, you think they're just going to release 50,000 people with no job, prospects, or particular motivation into the wilds of California?  They'll get sent to psychiatry: some will go to outpatient; some will go to state hospitals; many of them will go on disability.

Which is fine for some, maybe they need it. And sure, it's better than prison, drinking lava is better than prison.  But let's not pretend this is about overcrowding.

This is simply a re-characterization of a social problem as psychiatric.   Society is faced with two choices: either there are a lot of bad people in the world, or there are a lot of sick people in the world.  Society doesn't really know how to solve either problem, but at least the latter is neither its fault, nor its problem.

Reclassifying a criminal problem as psychiatric lets you do three things: lower your expectations that criminals will change ("biological diathesis, we still don't have great treatments"); enjoy civilized society without having to wonder why it might be generating more bad guys, not less;  not worry about all that tiresome speedy trial/ court appointed lawyer/ due process nonsense, because in psychiatry, there is no due process, just utilization review.


"This is simply a re-charac... (Below threshold)

February 10, 2009 12:46 PM | Posted by Mer: | Reply

"This is simply a re-characterization of a social problem as psychiatric."

Of course it is. I know in Pennsylvania there was a massive re-characterization of psychiatric problems into social problems in the 1980's and 1990's, closing state hospitals and sending both patients and employees into the corrections system. I worked in the educational department of a state prison, and I can tell you that more than two-thirds of non-guard employees (education, administration, food services, facilities) were former state hospital employees, and in the medical deptartment it was nearly 100%.

Considering how famously powerful the prison guard's union is in California, it wouldn't surprise me at all that a similar crippling of state hospitals in favor of prisons happened there. It's just a redistribution, and its probably needed. When I was employed in the slammer, I didn't meet any innocent men, but I met many men that were drugged into submission and left in the care of military rejects with uniform fetishes and AA's from the local community college in Criminal Justice.

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It is just a failure to com... (Below threshold)

February 10, 2009 1:02 PM | Posted by mark p.s.2: | Reply

It is just a failure to communicate what is the wrong and right chemical.
The consumers and distributers of marijuana is the WRONG chemical, psychiatry has the RIGHT chemicals.

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1. Keep up the doggerel: eg... (Below threshold)

February 10, 2009 2:16 PM | Posted by Dave Johnson: | Reply

1. Keep up the doggerel: eg: "obamamyth." I can't tell you how good it makes me feel that the 30 percenters continue to cavil and whine.
2. This recharacterization says more about the institutions of incarceration than anything else. It's just a way to avoid admitting the obvious- the prison/justice system is broken and, for whatever reasons, the US is a particularly (self-defined) toxic society.
3. Ouch.

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"enjoy civilized society wi... (Below threshold)

February 10, 2009 6:19 PM | Posted by Valerie: | Reply

"enjoy civilized society without having to wonder why it might be generating more bad guys, not less"

Two things:

People can overlook the obvious, but I'm pretty sure most have a grasp on the general idea that mental illnesses and criminal behavior are somehow related and that if the output of either one increases there will need to be a NewsWeek cover -stat- featuring the soulless criminal de jour set split screen with a particularly large-eyed child whose future was being ruined at press time.
There will also be a liberal amount of Arial Narrow and italics.

Most people think criminals are bad, defective. And a lot of them think the same of the mentally ill. In any case, the presence of either has historically made most members of society uncomfortable. Having an overflow of mentally ill or a heavy criminal element doesn't exactly give off that 'civilized' vibe.

My point is that 're-characterizing' the population of the 'underbelly' of society isn't going to lull anyone into complacency about having a ...well, large underbelly. And it's probably a better description of their impact on society. I think people will still care. Even if it's only to lessen the awkward silences between pan-handlers as you walk down a downtown street with a latte and a side of liberal guilt.

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Psychiatry has less stigma ... (Below threshold)

February 11, 2009 1:03 AM | Posted by EH: | Reply

Psychiatry has less stigma than jail. I think the smart thing to do would be to redefine some sentences right about now. If the taxpayers can save money by psychiatrizing offenders, that's fine with me. Let's just make sure it stays that way. Obviously the ones making the decisions aren't thinking that the crime rate will shoot up because of this. Look for the CCPOA to say it, though.

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750,000 Americans are put i... (Below threshold)

February 11, 2009 2:53 AM | Posted by Colin: | Reply

750,000 Americans are put in prisons for non-violent marijuana crimes like possession or growing. Many of these people are perfectly normal and successful. It's impossible to overdose on marijuana.


Our drug war on marijuana is wasting prison space, court time and tax dollars. Legalize the shit and tax it!

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Yes, but sometimes the reco... (Below threshold)

February 11, 2009 9:00 AM | Posted by Dr Benway: | Reply

Yes, but sometimes the recommended treatment is jail.

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<a href="http://www.natural... (Below threshold)

February 13, 2009 7:25 AM | Posted by mark p.s.2: | Reply


comic of Adderall vs Meth

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irrelevant, in this context... (Below threshold)

February 14, 2009 7:57 PM | Posted, in reply to mark p.s.2's comment, by iolanthe: | Reply

irrelevant, in this context. if CA releases their potheads they'll simply overwhelm the current welfare system, in which we could reasonably include the familial support systems of those who've been marginalized by their "criminal records". job-seeking behaviours are dis-encouraged by the (wrong-headed) societal expectation that potheads are incapable of any sort of productive activities. this lie, of course, flies in the face of the fact that many of them/us in the "free" society do quite well, thank you very much.
Mike Phellps is a VICTIM of the mass hysteria which has gripped our legislators ever since Harry Anslinger needed a new bug-a-booooo to further his career. but don't take my word for it....the story has been widely disseminated ever since NORML organised itself, and it's easy to find online.
thanks for your att'n!

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Benway. Ben way wrong befo... (Below threshold)

February 14, 2009 8:07 PM | Posted, in reply to Dr Benway's comment, by iolanthe: | Reply

Benway. Ben way wrong before, huh? Whose "recommended" treatment are you talking about here? Certainly not the recommendation of LEAP, for example, and for whom I don't speak.
&, BTW, where'd you get the "Dr" tag for y'self?

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More evidence that the stat... (Below threshold)

February 16, 2009 12:42 PM | Posted by Lexi: | Reply

More evidence that the state is passing on prison issues to psych?

State mistakenly lets a guy out of prison and he goes and stabs a girl . . . thank goodness for 60 year old heroes. (Has anyone noticed these days that in civilian disasters like Virgina Tech, it seems like the only heroes are the old men?)


"The suit says the state, normally immune to liability for parolees' crimes, should be held responsible in this case for failing to treat Thomas for symptoms of psychiatric disorders he showed in prison and for releasing him in violation of its own written policy."

Now can California make it easier for non-criminals to get conceal/carry permits? If you won't protect us, let us do it ourselves.

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Jail is a natural consequen... (Below threshold)

February 19, 2009 8:09 AM | Posted, in reply to iolanthe's comment, by Dr Benway: | Reply

Jail is a natural consequence for certain actions in our community. Beating up a nurse because she refuses some request, for example.

If we believe that Mr. X is so brain damaged that he can't stop himself from harming others, it's reasonable to put him in a long-term custodial treatment setting where his violent impulses can be managed, more or less.

If we believe that Mr. X has some hope of joining our community where assault isn't tolerated, then he must face the natural consequences of his own behavior. Otherwise, he may continue to use threats of violence and real violence to meet his needs rather than learn more pro-social strategies.

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