Here's an advisory for prospective summer visitors to California: The state must release around 32,000 prisoners under a new Supreme Court decision to help mentally ill inmates. It is one of the largest prisoner releases in U.S. history. Exciting.
Citing the state penitentiaries' horrific overcrowding and high suicide rate, the high court upheld an order to reduce the prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity from 200 percent in recent years, translating into a release of around 32,000 people. It's not clear how many of those people will come straight from mental treatment, but it's plain that the overcrowding is corroding the minds even among the regular population.
California prisoners have been living in gyms up to 200 at a time, and as many as 54 prisoners have been known to share a single toilet. There is, on average, about one suicide per week, according to a report by the governor's office. Plainiffs in the case told the court that "mentally ill prisoners have been found hanged to death in holding tanks where observation windows are obscured with smeared feces, and discovered catatonic in pools of their own urine after spending nights in locked cages." Don't get us wrong: It's humane and just that these guys are getting out after 11 years of overcrowding and court orders. We just wouldn't, ideally, want to find ourselves next to one at a lonely highway gas station some night.
[Photo of inmates crowded into a gym at a prison in Chino in 2007 via AP]