What will it take to wake up an apathetic CA … prisoner release?

As the U.S. budget exploded with the twin trillion dollar TARP and Stimulus bills, Cash for Clunkers and $440 billion in losses at Fannie and Freddie, the voting public responded with the Tea Party movement that swept through America in 2009 and 2010. During the 2010 election cycle, while the nation was electing 80 (of 435) new representatives, California voters paid no heed, returning 96% of incumbents to office – a record that would have made the old Soviet Politburo proud.

This same West Coast voter apathy has allowed a $26 billion budget deficit to remain unresolved for years. Rather than solve the fiscal spending crisis, Governor Brown has proposed tax hikes to close the gap, while protecting the all powerful labor unions in California, whose pension, pay and healthcare tabs have placed many California cities in near bankruptcy. California voters have responded with typical apathy to the Brown tax hike proposal paying little attention and raising no alarm. The same cannot be said for the United States Supreme Court which ruled 5-4 in Brown vs. Plata that California must release up to 46,000 inmates from California prisons citing deplorable conditions which caused “needless suffering and death” and “amounted to cruel and unusual punishment”. Will Californians remain apathetic when tens of thousands of convicted felons are released to the streets and neighborhoods of their communities?

That conditions in California prisons are deplorable cannot be debated. The state’s prisons, which were built to hold 80,000 inmates, hold 143,335 inmates today, according to Matthew Cate, secretary of California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a Sacramento native, spoke of suicidal prisoners being held in “telephone booth-sized cages without toilets” and others, sick and in pain, who died before being seen by a doctor. As many as “200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, and as many as 54 may share a single toilet,” he said.

Justice Anton Scalia, delivering his own dissent, said the majority had affirmed “what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history.” He added, “Terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order.”

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley agreed, stating, “Citizens will pay a real price as crime victims, as thousands of convicted felons will be on the streets with minimal supervision.”

How long can Californians remained apathetic to their political and fiscal problems? In 1999, California pols wasted the $25 billion “tobacco settlement” to pay for its current spending instead of “health care through 2025” as was planned. After recalling Gray Davis for running a $30 billion deficit in 2003, they paid scant attention as politicians built another deficit hole that the Legislative Analysts Office reports will be “$20 billion per year for years to come”.

If such fiscal insanity could not stir the California electorate, as it did Tea Party members across America, the release of 46,000 convicted felons may awaken a sleeping giant. California’s 23 million registered voters cleaned up their streets and neighborhood with a no-nonsense “three strikes” policy that put repeat offenders behind bars while creating the nation’s largest prison population. Releasing 46,000 felons, 30% of its inmates, to its relatively safe communities and neighborhoods will undoubtedly cause a spike in crime that may finally gain their attention.

But California voters, if they awaken at all, will quickly learn that they may be too late. City employee pensions, pay and healthcare have also been allowed to spike during the spending binge, resulting in city deficits and lay-offs of police, fire, and probation officers. At the very time when they are most needed, their cities will be forced to lay off these critical employees.

Will California voters remain apathetic, or will this epical Supreme Court decision trigger California’s own Tea Party movement?

About the author: Robert J Cri sti ano PhD is the Real Estate Professional in Residence at Chapman University in Orange, CA, a senior Fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, CA and President of the international investment firm, L88