As the Supreme Court debates whether to force California to finally reduce overcrowding in its wretched prison system, Justice Alito asks “If 40,000 prisoners are going to be released…[do] you really believe that if you were to come back here two years after that you would be able to say they haven’t contributed to an increase in crime?”
As a resident of California, I know that releasing 40,000 prisoners en masse will results in some crimes in the community, and I fear that accordingly. But as someone who worked as an inspector of California prisons, I would suggest with respect that the Justice is framing the issue too narrowly.
Better comparative questions for the Court to ask would be as follows:
(1) “Are 40,000 prisoners who have served their sentence in a grossly overcrowded and inhumane prison system more likely to re-offend than are 40,000 prisoners who have served their sentence in adequately staffed and resourced prisons?”
(2) “If we had reduced the prison population by putting 40,000 low-risk people on their way to prison into high quality community correction systems instead, would the crime rate have been lower two years from now than it will after we have massed released 40,000 people who have spent years in grossly overcrowded, inhumane prisons?”.
By focusing only on the negative consequences of the unfortunate downstream decision the state may be forced to make, Justice Alito is overlooking the far more profound and ill-advised public policy decisions made upstream that put us in such evil case in the first place (and will do so again and again if we don’t move our analytical focus to that point in the policy stream).