I thought today’s San Diego U-T editorial (“The action hero exits with a shameful act” ) condemning Arnold’s decision to commute the sentence of a political crony’s murderous adult son best reflected (well, at least touched on) my thinking. There are plenty of people in our HUGE prison system that have FAR better cases for commuting their sentences, or for outright pardons. But their parents aren’t buddies with our (now) previous governor.
It’s reported that the U.S. has the highest per capital incarceration rate of any civilized nation in the world. And of the 50 states, it’s likely that California has the highest incarceration rate. Hence California locks up more people for longer times for a greater range of crimes than just about anyone. And seldom are these “crimes” as onerous as murdering someone.
Our flawed 3rd strike system can put someone in prison for 25 years to life for minor crimes. Our parole system too often sends people back to prison for relatively minor parole infractions. And, of course, our failed War on ‘Drugs provides a steady flow of drug sellers for our prison system — without in any way curtailing the readily available supply of illegal drugs.
We are developing an increasingly geriatric prison population that presents little threat to society, but a major threat to the ability of the state to deliver core services. Our prison system the fastest growing major expense in our state budget.
It doesn’t help that our prison guards’ labor union drives our pro-lock-up judicial system. And then add the DE FACTO state ban on private prisons, and the fact that our state prison guards are the highest paid in the nation.
Just to be clear — I’m VERY much in favor of locking up truly dangerous criminals. Like everyone, I want to live in a safe society. Prisons help protect us from those who prey upon others.
But in such a vast penal system, doubtless we have gathered literally hundreds if not thousands of people who are either improperly incarcerated, or are incarcerated for too long a time. As far as I know, Schwarzenegger didn’t use his power to rectify this problem for “the little people.”
Bottom line: The governor’s power to commute sentences or pardon prisoners is a judicious tool, PROPERLY USED. There are many unjust incarcerations in our state that the governor could have remedied. Instead, Arnold made a mockery of justice, and forever tarnished his already smarmy reputation.