Another View: Flawed prison ruling undoubtedly will set felons free

June 5, 2011 

George Runner

Re "Don't fall for scare tactics on prisons" (Editorial, May 25):

The Bee's editorial accused me of fear mongering when I warned that the U.S. Supreme Court's flawed decision on California prisons poses a threat to the public safety. Not true.

Gov. Jerry Brown plans to move thousands of prisoners to local jails. Unfortunately those jails don't have the capacity to house new prisoners, and that's unlikely to change in the short time frame provided by the court. The result will be the early release of many convicted felons with a history of serious crimes.

These felons may be labeled "nonviolent" but don't let that fool you. Nonviolent offenders include commercial burglars, car thieves and drug dealers. Many plea-bargained to avoid tougher sentences and many have violent histories, including prior convictions for child abuse, domestic violence or assaulting a police officer.

These are bad folks. I doubt you want them in your neighborhood.

The Bee's editorial board would have you believe that fiscal conservatives are to blame for California's current prison problems – if those tightwads would just support higher taxes, California's problems would be solved.

But they don't tell you that Californians already bear the sixth highest tax burden in the nation. We already spend more per prisoner – about $50,000 a year – than any other state. Health care costs alone have soared to $18,000 per prisoner per year since the federal takeover of our prison health care system.

The court's finding of overcrowding was based on the "design capacity" of our prisons, which assumes one prisoner per room. Most of our prisons were built with two beds per room; accordingly their operating capacity far exceeds design capacity.

Perhaps The Bee believes convicted felons should have private rooms and premium health care when many jobless Californians have neither. I don't.

Given the outrageous costs of our current system, it shouldn't cost a penny more to house prisoners in other locations. In fact, we should save money. But that won't stop politicians and editorial page editors from claiming otherwise in an attempt to scare folks into supporting higher taxes.

There are solutions to reducing our prison population. For starters, we should demand that the federal government transfer the 20,000 criminal illegal aliens in our state prisons to federal prisons. After all, they're only here because the federal government failed to safeguard our borders.

But as we look for solutions, let's not fool ourselves into thinking a bad court decision that threatens public safety is anything other than that.

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