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.