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California’s Misguided Approach to Complying with Brown v. Plata

| June 15, 2011

June 7th is the deadline by which California must comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Plata. Right now, the plan is apparently to reallocate inmates to prisons in other states and to county jails. This has Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich a little bit scared, NPR reports.

Supervisor Antonovich warns that L.A. County jails are already packed to the brim. He condemned the Supreme Court decision as a “reckless, unfunded mandate” that L.A. County cannot handle. “[W]ho’s going to pay for these individuals after six months? What do you do with a repeat offender? We don’t have mental health programs to provide for our own people; now we’re going to have all these other individuals coming in. This is really a Pandora’s Box.”

L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley fears that the mandate will force early releases of dangerous criminals, which he argues will have dire consequences for public safety. L.A. recently released a number of violent criminals from its system due to a computer glitch, so “their track record is not too hot,” Cooley said.

Peter Eliasberg, an attorney with the ACLU (the group in charge of monitoring L.A.’s prison conditions) is concerned with the probable increase in inmate violence that will follow in Los Angeles. “You’re going to dump another 10,000 more prisoners into that system? It is a prescription for disaster. It is going to become a much greater cauldron of violence, overcrowding and idleness”

Antonovich, Cooley, and Eliasberg all have valid concerns. California’s path to complying with the prison release order will be littered with roadblocks.  Ultimately, the state will realize that the only way to comply with the order is to make distinctions between violent and nonviolent offenders, and prioritize prison space for violent criminals, while burnishing community supervision alternatives for nonviolent ones.

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