Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Prison reform possible?

Here's a link to a piece I did for this last Sunday's Register on the prospects for prison reform in California. It's been a bad bet for the last several years, but things may be converging. California has 173,000 prisoners in facilities built to house about 80,000. A federal judge has threatened to impose a cap and maybe take over the whole system if something isn't done by June to alleviate overcrowding.

Even the prison guards union -- with whose top leaders we met a couple of weeks ago, at which time I found myself surprised to like them -- are for a sentencing commission, one that would likely lead to fewer prisoners.

Perhaps it's not all that surprising. The prison guards have become enough of a political powerhouse to increase their salary and benefits beyond what anyone would have thought imaginable 10 or 15 years ago, and their members have to live with the effects of overcrowding, which have the potential to be physically dangerous to them, not to mention constant stress.

The best reform, of course, would be to repeal the drug laws, which would reduce real crime significantly. I suspect that's not in the cards anytime soon, though I haven't given up hope for my lifetime.

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