Monday, December 11, 2006

California Prison System In Crisis

Abraham Lincoln said more than once that every time he heard the virtues of slavery extolled, he felt a strong desire to see it tried on the person praising it.

The same thing could be said of the many persons in our society, including many prosecutors and judges, who support the present California criminal justice system, the long prison terms under the three-strikes law, the lack of adequate procedures for parole, the placing of former convicts back in jail for relatively minor breaches of parole, and so forth.

Two articles in the Los Angeles Times Sunday dealt with the injustices of a system in which the number of imprisoned constantly grows and many middle-aged persons, well past the age in which they might be most prone to commit new crimes and often suffering mental problems, remain in jail.

First, there was a column in the California section by Steve Lopez on the case of the psychologically-impaired Stephan Lilly, sentenced to 25 years in jail on a three-strike violation, despite the fact that two of the crimes were strictly verbal and the third was arguably a misdemeanor.

The prosecutor in this sad case was Angela Brunson and the judge was a relatively new Schwarzenegger appointee to the bench, Richard Goul. Lopez actually was able to interview Goul, who defended the shocking sentence.

I looked up Goul on the Internet. Before being appointed to the bench he was a deputy district attorney in Long Beach in charge of sexual assault cases. The Lilly case was not a sexual assault.

It would be interesting to know more about Goul and Brunson, but I believe that given their judgement, they belong in prison more than Lilly does, and, in a just world, would be sent there for awhile to give them the opportunity to alter their views. In Brunson's case, she had offered Lilli an 11-year sentence on a plea bargain. When he didn't take it and went to trial, she urged that he be sent up for 25 years, and the judge went along. Shame on her!

The crimes committed by Goul and Brunson in their handling of this case are worse than the one for which Lilly is being incarcerated, at immense public expense, for 25 years. Shame on both these miscreants.

The second article appeared in the L.A. Times' improving Current section and was by Joe Domanick, author of the book, "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's Golden State" as well as a senior fellow in criminal justice at USC's Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism.

Noting that in 1994 California voters "overwhelmingly approved a three-strikes law mandating a sentence of 25 years to life for a third felony conviction and a doubling of a sentence for a second strike," Domanick goes on:

"Criminal justice experts estimates that as much as 25% of California's -- and the nation's -- decade-long crime decline is attributable to this punish all-criminals strategy. But the approach has come at a huge cost. The longer sentences have swelled the inmate population far beyond the capacity of our prisons and contributed to the rise of an older criminal class, especially in California. In Los Angeles County, for instance, felony arrests and incarceration of 40 to 59-year-olds have jumped dramatically, a stunning development, given that criminals tend to commit fewer crimes as they reach their mid-20s, and fewer still as they grow older. But in L.A. County, 40-to-59-year-olds are incarcerated at a rate 1,200% higher than in 1980. Many return to prison because of technical violations -- failing drug tests or missing a parole appointment."

When Schwarzenegger was first elected governor, Domanick remarks, he backed prison reform, but he soon retreated under pressure from the (corrupt) prison guards union. Now, he has fallen back "on the old, failed bromide of building more prisons."

Not only is the system unjust, but it costs the taxpayers of California billions of dollars.

Both Lopez and Domanick have done a public service with their articles. Let's hope someone is paying attention.

The headline on Lopez's article was, "Inmate is unstable; the system is just nuts."


(Another article on the California prison system in crisis appears today in the New York Times, Page A18, by Jennifer Steinhauer. She notes that California has the highest prison population in the nation, with state prisons currently housing 173,000 inmates. It costs $8 billion a year).



Anonymous james fulton said...

The three-strikes law is effective as a weapon against crime. The liberal Times, of course, has always opposed it, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. I ddn't read Lopez' column, but when we talk about the alleged injustice of a particular case, we need to know specifics about the three crimes and the prosecutor's reasoning in asking for the sentence.

12/11/2006 4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The three-strikes law is abused over zealous prosecutors. Voters were not told that a first time offender could be struck out on a first offense. That a two striker could be struck out for stealing a slice of pizza. That indigent defendants are assigned inexperienced, underpaid, overloaded, and/or uncaring defense attorneys who usually fear a bias judge. As for tha prosecutor's reason........ Why to win, of course, at all cost. That prosecutor hopes to become a judge someday. Only winning prosecutors get justice appointments

4/06/2007 8:11 PM  

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