Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Releasing Prisoners

In 3150 we discuss the disaster brewing in California after 15 years of drunken imprisonment binging. Today's NYT has an excellent editorial on the growing catastrophe.

The mass imprisonment philosophy that has packed prisons and sent corrections costs through the roof around the country has hit especially hard in California, which has the largest prison population, the highest recidivism rate and a prison budget raging out of control.

According to a new federally backed study conducted at the University of California, Irvine, the state’s corrections costs have grown by about 50 percent in less than a decade and now account for about 10 percent of state spending — nearly the same amount as higher education. The costs could rise substantially given that a federal lawsuit may require the state to spend $8 billion to bring the prison system’s woefully inadequate medical services up to constitutional standards.

The solution for California is to shrink its vastly overcrowded prison system. To do so, it would need to move away from mandatory sentencing laws that have proved to be disastrous across the country — locking up more people than protecting public safety requires.
Easier said than done, naturally. The fact remains, imprisonment has become the classic sacred cow of politics. It is simply political suicide to suggest any measure which does not fit the mandatory-minimum, lock 'em up and throw away the key philosophy.

And releasing prisoners is even more politically disastrous, even though research shows the vast majority of those locked up in California are in for non-violent petty crimes.

Speaking of releasing inmates, the U.S. military is now trying to figure out what to do with the more than 17,000 Iraqi prisoners in their custody as the war winds down.
CAMP BUCCA, Iraq — America’s largest detention facility is here in Iraq’s southern desert, and it sits at the center of one of the most complex debates in the transition from American military rule to full Iraqi sovereignty: what to do with the 5,000 Iraqi prisoners whom the United States military considers a threat to the hard-fought and still fragile calm in Iraq?

Less clear, however, is what will happen to those already in detention — about 17,000 people in all.

In theory, the United States would no longer have the right to continue to hold them. And with the United States seeking to slowly phase out its mission in Iraq, American commanders say they are eager to close down a system that has proved to be a drain on cash and, after the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, American credibility.

Among the detainees still in American custody, about 5,000 are considered “dangerous radicals,” said Brig. Gen. David E. Quantock, commanding general for Task Force 134, which oversees the detention system in Iraq. The United States will probably have to release about 4,000 of them when the military’s right to detain people expires at year’s end, he said.

Most of the remaining 12,000 detainees are people who the Americans believe either were mistakenly swept up or played minor roles in the insurgency and are unlikely to return to it as long as they can find work.
A legal and logistical headache, to say the least. But if Iraq is to ever be truly sovereign, they must take responsibility and control of their inmate population sooner rather than later.

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