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Warehouses of Misery

By Wm. Daniel Ravenscroft, esq.

What has our prison system really come to? Nothing more than a giant machine gobbling up human beings then spitting them out without the slightest concern for the collateral consequences.

The California prison system has over 90,000 inmates and the rate of incarceration and recidivism is absurd. Aside form this, it appears that our legislature is on a collision course to "try to provide prison beds for offenders" when in fact, all they are really accomplishing is the establishment of human warehouses of misery. This obviously pleases the citizenry, but the end result of the products produced within the prison system is something that seriously needs to be addressed.

In the recent Blue Ribbon Commission Report on inmate population management, the major findings indicated the predominate conclusion that "the criminal justice system in California is out of balance and will remain so unless the entire state and local criminal justice system is addressed from prevention through discharge of jurisdiction."

The commission also concluded that in 1994, lacking significant changes in correctional policies and practices, when the currently authorized construction is completed, prisons will be more overcrowded than they are today (168% vs. 189%) and the jails will only be slightly less overcrowded given the current population projections.

We simply cannot build our way out of the rising crime rate. The prison overcrowding problem should be solved through an approach involving changes in sentencing practices, adoption of a Community Corrections Act, changes in corrections practices such as parole revocation procedures and additional construction of prisons, jails, youth facilities and community corrections facilities as necessary.

Finally, it appears that the citizenry of America is so preoccupied with the factors of isolation and retributive punishment, that there is nearly a universal failure to consider much needed alternatives to provide for rehabilitative and preventive factors that assuredly would be cost effective. (Mr. Ravenscroft is the executive director of Legal Associates West, an internationally networked legal research advocacy with membership in a wide range of professional and criminal justice organizations.)

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