May 25, 2011

This Should Go Without Saying

Earlier this week, a 5-4 split Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling ordering California to reduce its prison population by about 46,000. It’s currently running at nearly twice the capacity it’s designed for (the court order only gets it down to 137.5% of capacity). That level of overcrowding has led to a parade of horrible set forth in the Court’s opinion that should make any human being cringe.

Along the way, the Court majority, via Justice Kennedy, writes (citations omitted):
To incarcerate, society takes from prisoners the means to provide for their own needs. Prisoners are dependent on the State for food, clothing, and necessary medical care. A prison’s failure to provide sustenance for inmates ‘may actually produce physical ‘torture or a lingering death.’’ Just as a prisoner may starve if not fed, he or she may suffer or die if not provided adequate medical care. A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.
I’ve said before that if we, as a society, want to lock up more people than other places on the planet, we’ve got to pay for it. The citizens of California could have avoided this result years ago (the cases have been pending for decades) by either (a) concluding that they were locking up too many people and reviewing their penal law accordingly or (b) pull their heads out of their assess and pay to build more, bigger, and better prisons to hold these people.

A human being locked in a cage because he’s done wrong (or not, given the continued ludicrousness of the War on Drugs) is still a human being. If you’re going to keep him from getting fed, sheltered, and cared for on his own, you’ve got to step up and provide. It’s that simple.

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