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5 Consequences of “Tough on Crime” Measures

Mar 01 2016, by Jessica McElfresh in Criminal Convictions, Felony, Legal Blog, Misdemeanor, Theft

If you’re facing a criminal offense and are seeking representation, contact an experienced San Diego criminal defense attorney at McElfresh Law today.


In California, decades of “tough on crime” policies resulted in major overcrowding of state prisons. In response to overwhelming numbers and inadequate conditions, the Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the state’s treatment of prisoners amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. It ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce and improve prison populations. Today, new legislation known as the Public Safety Realignment has resulted in non-violent offenders moving away from state prisons to county facilities. But even as realignment improves California’s prison conditions, it is far from representing comprehensive prison reform.

  1. Overcrowding — The California prison system is designed to hold fewer than 80,000 individuals. But by 2006, state prison populations had climbed to over 170,000. This resulted in fewer resources for those incarcerated and put a massive strain on the California prison system.

  2. Inadequate Health Resources — Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, many inmates needed access to health and mental health services. But mental and physical health care services in California’s prisons sharply deteriorated in the mid-2000s due to overcrowding, and many inmates did not receive adequate or even minimal care.

  3. Poor Living Conditions — With the California prison system operating around 200% capacity in 2006, state prisons crammed prisoners into spaces that were never designed or intended to be used to accommodate people. Such overcrowding directly resulted in the increased transmission of infectious illness.

  4. Cruel and Unusual Punishment — Severe conditions in California prisons resulted in inhumane treatment of prisoners, some of whom were housed in cages, placed on administrative segregation, or not given emergency medical treatment.

  5. Death in Prison — Severe crowding of prisons resulted in the death and injury of inmates and correctional employees due to violence, disease, and suicide. In 2006, the suicide rate in California prisons was almost 80% higher than the national average for prison populations. Then-Governor Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency for California’s prisons.

How the Public Safety Realignment Is Designed to Help

In response to overwhelming overcrowding in California’s prisons, legislation known as the Public Safety Realignment has sought to relieve prisons by transferring responsibility for prisoners in state prisons to county facilities. This move has helped relieve some of the problems of overcrowding, but it has not addressed the larger issue of mass incarceration. In fact, not all types of prisoners are transferred equally—the state only realigns individuals who were convicted of non-violent and drug offenses. For progressive prison reform to occur, the state needs to adopt a comprehensive approach to reform, one that addresses the issue of overcrowding due to the incarceration of people involved in all types of crime.

How the San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyers at McElfresh Law Can Help You

At McElfresh Law, we have years of experience helping clients who are facing criminal charges and will fight to help you avoid entering the California prison system. For a free consultation, contact San Diego criminal defense attorney Jessica McElfresh at (858) 756-7107 today.