The passage of the three strikes law in California in 1994 was major news. If you haven't seen the folly of it, check out this video.
Families to Amend California's Three Strikes Law have produced a list of facts about the law. A couple that stand out to me:
23,511 to 173,000
The change in California's prison population from 1980 to 2006 (almost a seven-fold increase).
21 and 1
The number of prisons and colleges/universities built in California since 1984.
The result of this and other "get tough" laws in California is that the prison system in that state is unsustainably overcrowded. Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that orders the state to remedy the situation.
Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in a 5-to-4 decision that broke along ideological lines, described a prison system that failed to deliver minimal care to prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems and produced “needless suffering and death.”
Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. filed vigorous dissents. Justice Scalia called the order affirmed by the majority “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history.”...
“A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society,” Justice Kennedy wrote on Monday.
All of this comes when the country is experiencing a historic decline in crime.
Crime levels fell last year compared to 2009, continuing a downward trend that saw a 5.5 percent drop in the number of violent crimes last year and a 2.8 percent drop in the number of property crimes.
Figures released by the FBI Monday also showed that there were declines in all four categories of violent crime in 2010 and all categories for property crime went down as well.
"In a word, remarkable," said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University...
Violent crime last increased in 2005. Property crime last increased in 2002.
The fact that crime is decreasing during the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression is something that should be of note. We should be asking ourselves what has worked and build on those efforts.
And yet, amidst all the talk at the state and national level about budget deficits, we hear almost nothing about proposals to reduce the ineffective and inefficient practices of our drug war and prison industrial complex.
I think its high time we started that conversation.