I’ve used Thomas Paine’s quote many times. I can’t think of time when this quote is more applicable than now – “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one”. But that isn’t a reason for it to be necessarily evil. With the Supreme Court ruling in favor of releasing over 40 thousand convicted felons in California, government is definitely showing its evil nature.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v Plata that because California’s prison system was so overcrowded that prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights were being violated. The sanest remedy to these giants of judicial prudence is to relieve overcrowding by releasing prisoners.
Before we dive further into that asinine assumption, let us take a closer look at the Eighth Amendment and the history behind it. The Eighth states:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Basically the idea is that the punishment should fit the crime. This amendment is based on a similar statement from the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which reads, “That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. “ Note that the only word changed was ought to shall. So, it’s a concept that was around over 100 years before our own Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. So what prompted the English to include this provision? According to Wikipedia, the reason was Titus Oates. Mr Oates testified (falsely) about a Catholic plot to kill King Charles II. In the end 15 people were executed based on his testimony. Several years later, when it was discovered that he had lied, rather than be put to death himself, was sentenced to life in prison. While that wasn’t cruel or unusual the rest of the sentence was. Once a year, he was put in a pillory in public, where the public was allowed to throw whatever they wanted at him. The following day he was stripped down, tied to a cart and beaten while driven between two towns. The third day, the return trip was made where he suffered another whipping.
This extreme punishment inspired the English to limit what the state could do to individuals for punishment. Personally, if 15 innocent men were killed based on this man’s false testimony, I don’t think the punishment was harsh enough. Opinions aside, legal support for that type of torturous justice ended in western society in 1689. The same sensibilities that inspired that prohibition found their way into our own Bill of Rights.
Fast forward to 2011. You live in California and commit a crime in a state which has often made the news for its prison overcrowding. When Brown v Plata first went to trial, California held about 156,000 prisoners in a system designed to accommodate 80,000. So you know that if you get caught and convicted for what you think is a genius criminal enterprise, you’re going to be subject to crowded, cramped conditions. You might have to sleep on a mat on a gym floor. You might have to wait to use a bathroom. You might even have to wait to see a doctor. But you won’t be subject to public ridicule, whipping or having rotten eggs thrown at your head. Somehow the Supremes (and I use that term loosely) have confused loss of rights and issues associated with crowding with torture. Rather than order the state to build more prisons or convert some existing government buildings into prisons, they choose to endanger the public by releasing convicted felons back into the general population. When justice becomes more concerned about respecting felons’ rights, than the safety and security of the public, government can indeed be said to be evil. And when they are willing to allow people who have abdicated their rights to live among those whose rights should be protected, government can even be said to be intolerable.
And speaking of having to wait for doctors, does this mean we mean can sue the Obama administration for cruel and unusual punishment once Obamacare kicks in and health rationing occurs and we have to wait for months for care like the Canadians and Europeans?