California prisons

California prisons

The California Three Strikes and You’re Out law is one of the harshest, if not the harshest, in the nation.  Under Three Strikes, a third felony conviction can, and often does, mean life without parole no time off for good behavior.  Great idea you say, lock up violent career criminals and throw away the key.  Hold on.  Many of those doing life on Three Strikes are there for non-violent crimes.  Some unforunates are doing life for three non-violent felonies.  Sometimes those felonies could have been classified as misdemeanors but weren’t.

There are people doing life on a third strike for stealing $20 worth of video tapes.  A crime that could easily have been filed as a misdeamor.  This isn’t justice, this has nothing to do with justice.  So, what does it have to do with?

Gray Davis, Governor of California, for one.  One of his largest campaign contributors is the prison guard union.  They’ve given him hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In return, Gray builds more prisons, and keeps those guards employed.  And, of course, the prisons must be kept full.

Other politicians also get great mileage by foaming at the mouth about gitting tough on street crime.  It gets them elected.  If some spend their lives rotting in prison for minor crimes, oh well too bad.

Life in California prison can be something out of Kafka.  A guard can put an inmate into permanent isolation for “associating” with gang members.  This “associating” can be as simple as talking to them in the yard.  There is no appeal, if the guard says it’s so, off you go. 

Then you get put in a cell 23 hours a day, no human contact allowed – no speaking or talking to anyone.  You either stay there until your sentence is done or you rat out someone.  If an inmate is released back into general population it is assumed he informed on someone.  Stalin would be proud.

My opinion?  No human contact for years on end is by definition “cruel and unusual punishment” and should be banned.  So should Three Strikes.  There are very few countries with prisons and sentences as harsh as the US.  Most of the rest of the world views our prisons as something out of the Dark Ages.  Especially the death penalty.  Most especially the death penalty for those under eighteen.  And really especially the death penalty for those under eighteen who are mentally retarded.  We are one of the very very few countries on the planet who execute mentally retarded children.

FACTS (Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes). 
CJC (Criminal Justice Consortium)