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Letters: Is California's prison crisis over?

January 12, 2013
  • Gov. Jerry Brown gestures to a stack of reports on California prisons as he discuss his call for federal judges to return control of prisons to the state during a news conference in Sacramento on Tuesday.
Gov. Jerry Brown gestures to a stack of reports on California prisons as… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

Re "Brown says state's prison crisis 'over,'" Jan. 9

The passage of Proposition 30 appears to have emboldened the governor, who combatively told lawyers and federal courts to end their frisking of the California prison system. When Jerry Brown speaks of wasting a lot of money on nonsense in the prisons, he forgets the multimillion-dollar lawsuits, on behalf of inmates, when prison officials fail to address obvious problems, including overcrowding and poor healthcare. Paying out money to inmates in a lawsuit is real nonsense.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has a history of not being proactive in addressing obvious problems. There is now more than ever a need to ensure that federal court orders to improve prison conditions are complied with, as the state has only just started to take steps to correct the problems that were obvious to everyone, including the courts.

If the federal oversight ends, the short-term memories of prison administrators will take over. They will continue on the same path of waiting for the next lawsuit to react.

Gilbert Robles

Arcadia

The writer, a retired California parole agent, was a commissioner on the Board of Parole Hearings.

Ever since California emptied and closed its state mental hospitals without providing adequate mental health services in the community, we've been using prisons to warehouse the mentally ill. Well, it is very expensive. Prisons cost much more than even in-patient mental health care. Not surprisingly, they don't provide effective care.

So if the governor really wants to cut prison costs, he ought to focus on putting fewer people in prison (locking up people for nonviolent crimes, three-strikes rules — really?) and on expanding mental health services in California communities.

Maybe then the prisons would be less crowded and federal judges wouldn't be breathing down the state's neck demanding adequate care in the prisons.

Barbara Berney

New York

The writer is the director of health policy and management and an associate professor at Hunter College's School of Public Health.

One need not even regard California's need for education funds; all one has to do is look at the tremendous number of poor Californians living on the streets to see where our money should be spent.

The criminals in our prisons have placed themselves where they are. They receive taxpayer-funded room, board, medical care and recreation equipment. Yet the courts are worried that they are suffering "cruel and unusual punishment" by being in overcrowded accommodations — a punishment that many of the homeless would be willing to suffer.

Brown is right: The federal courts are out of control.

Robert S. Henry

San Gabriel

I am stunned that the governor continues to claim that he can interpret what is cruel and unusual under the U.S. Constitution better than our federal courts.

How can we have any respect for his criminal justice policies when the response to gross violations of human rights in state prisons under his watch has been to argue that they aren't really so bad?

What's needed is sentencing reform and ending the misguided war on drugs. What we are getting is a disgrace.

Raphael Sperry

San Francisco

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