Incarceration is the great American exception. The rest of the world contemplates the US prison system with disgust; here, it arouses surprisingly little controversy.
You would expect American progressives to be far more exercised about it than they are. They are properly concerned about prolonged detention of terrorist suspects and the treatment of leakers of official secrets such as Bradley Manning, but apparently not much worried about criminal-justice issues that are quantitatively far more significant: questionable court practices (including default recourse to the plea bargain, which has made trial by jury a comparative rarity); extended periods of remand in custody; astonishingly long sentences (including for non-violent offenders); the erosion of judicial discretion in sentencing; outrageous "three strikes" laws; and often deplorable prison conditions. These things affect literally millions of US citizens. Waterboarding rightly shocks the progressive conscience; rape in prison is permissible material for chat-show comic monologues.
Even criminals have rights. Yet for every liberal I've heard complain about conditions in US prisons, I've heard ten say it's a disgrace that white-collar (ie, non-violent) offenders get off with short sentences at "Club Fed".
Good for the Supreme Court, therefore, in voting 5-to-4 to require California, whose prisons are especially notorious, to reduce its prison population and curb overcrowding. The judgment included photos of inmates crammed together, and tiny cages in which some are confined. It is a shame that the order was necessary--the courts should not have to make prison policy this way--but what was the alternative? As an FT editorial put it:
It is indeed a desperate and unsatisfactory measure - yet warranted under the circumstances, which are extreme.
The Washington Post came to the same conclusion.