Prison Reform in California Locked Up


The Los Angeles Times is reporting that California Senate Republicans have blocked a plan to build new health-care facilities in the state's prisons and are going to block a proposed settlement of a prison overcrowding lawsuit. These are, in every possible way, pretty terrible ideas. The prison system is in receivership, and the receiver says he'll raid the state coffers to pay for prison hospitals, if he has to. Without the settlement, the lawsuit will go to court, where the judges have the option of freeing large numbers of prisoners, which the Republican Senators have said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Look, I like a Howe & Hummelesque mass-prisoner-release-on-a-technicality story as much as anyone, but letting one happen in this case seems to serve not puckishness but political grandstanding. And it's particularly disturbing given that the $7 billion the court receiver wants for prison hospitals would be aimed at providing beds for prisoners with long-term medical problems and mental illnesses.

While the Bush administration has always insisted that there are clear distinctions between prisoners being held in Gitmo and those in the general prison population, I wonder how the existence of Gitmo and prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan affects American prison administration. Even before the administration started playing by a very different set of rules for war on terror prisoners, jail in the United States sounded like a terrifying place to be in any capacity. But I wonder if Gitmo's existence and use have made it easier for prison administrators to draw a harder line on prisoner treatment--or if our treatment of prisoners of war has made domestic incarceration look good by comparison, and blunted prison reform as an issue.