In a 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that California has to release roughly 32,000 inmates from its notoriously crowded prisons. California's prisons house more than 140,000 people, in a system meant for 80,000 prisoners. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the chronic overcrowding amounts to "torture," causes "needless suffering and death," and falls "short of minimum constitutional requirements" against cruel and unusual punishment. In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia called the ruling "absurd" and "staggering," warning that "terrible things are sure to happen." Did the Supremes make the right call?
The court did the right thing: If you simply glance at the photos of overcrowded California prisons that Kennedy affixed to his ruling — one showing mentally ill prisoners in "man-sized cages" — there's "no doubt that the conditions violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment," says The New York Times in an editorial. And California has continually failed to act, even in the face of 70 court orders over more than a dozen years. The nation's highest court was right to step in and right this wrong.
"California's prison crisis"
This "disaster" will cause a spike in crime: What is California, with its huge budget shortfall, supposed to do now? asks Paul Whitefield in the Los Angeles Times. Sure, freeing prisoners might shave state spending, but we still can't afford any fancy "rehabilitative programs" to help released prisoners. And assuming "at least a good percentage" of these inmates "deserved to be in prison" in the first place, we can expect their release to cause "real harm to real people. Innocent people." Don't expect Californians to be excited that "having lots of ex-cons on the streets will save us money."
"California's prisons: A disaster in the making"
It's time for California to make tough choices: The Supreme Court is just forcing "our dysfunctional state" to come to grips with its own decisions, says Mark Landsbaum in The Orange County Register. Voters want "tough laws" that fill the jails, but they don't want to pay the taxes to keep prisoners there. Now, our choices are grim: "Pay up, ship 'em out, or turn 'em loose." It's decision time.
"California prison choices: Pay up, ship 'em out, or turn 'em loose"