Seldom do I applaud any politician.
But today, I sit up and cheer for Jerry Brown.
He is appealing a judicial order to release more inmates from California’s prisons onto California streets or county jails in order to reduce “overcrowding.”
Speaking from China, Brown said the magic words, “appeal” and no—even when threatened with contempt of court.
The three-judge panel insists that “overcrowding” has impaired the prisoners’ mental health care and has led to “preventable suicides.”
Really? Are all suicides preventable?
For perspective, there were 15 suicides in the first half of 2012 in the 30 California Department of Corrections prisons.
By contrast, there was one suicide every single day in the non-felon population of San Diego in 2011. One a day in San Diego.
Multiply that by the entire state population and one comprehends the magnitude of the mental health problem confronting the country. Isn’t this a large part of the current gun control debate?
Some suicides—even inside a prison—are not preventable.
Some of these suicides result from severe depression, some from waking from the nightmare of a drug-induced heinous murder from which there is no escape. Some prompted by terminal illness. Others from self-induced drug overdoses. Many from a lethal combination of all of the above.
Suicides occur no matter how much money, nursing, tests, therapies, medications and constant care, and suicide watches are provided.
Currently, the state of California pays an annual cost—per prisoner (PDF)—of $47,421. More than the average annual tuition at an Ivy league college. And, yet, there are suicides.
Not all suicides are “preventable.”
To argue that the state of California and the doctors, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, mental and physical therapists are all somehow violating the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” is devoid of reality.
As Brown acknowledges, “California prisons are run by honorable men and women. They’re doing the best job possible. We have, I believe from what I’m being advised, among the best health care in America and probably in the world.”
And he has the experts to prove it.
Not only do California’s inmates receive better than the federally mandated “adequate care,”—more to the point—the inmates (there by the commission of a serious crime) have better and more timely “access to care” than the average non-felon, taxpaying citizen of California.
And the courts should recognize this.
Brown said he plans to personally inspect the prisons at issue in the court case.
“I’m personally going to be taking my own personal inspection tour of those prisons which the judge feels are not up to snuff, and I will certainly listen and read what the critics say,” Brown said.
“But I have to tell you the constitutional standard is deliberate indifference, and as far as I know there is no one deliberately indifferent to the health needs of California prisoners, and if I find such a person, he will be fired on the spot.”
Bravo, Jerry Brown.
Now, invite the judges to go with you.
If they’ve never visited the inside of a prison and seen the numbers of “criminally insane,” medically, mentally and physically handicapped and terminally ill inmates, or witnessed the enormous amount of work, care and expensive procedures – MRIs, CT scans, medications, physical therapy, medical, dental and nursing care provided free for them, which are far better than the non-felon population being taxed to pay for it all – then these judges have no right to threaten anyone with contempt.
See the reality, then judge the outcome.
It is far easier to read a legal brief that cherry picks pre-packaged arguments, than see the reality that defies remedy.
So, again. Bravo, Jerry Brown. Take the judges to prison with you.