Over-Criminalization: Cruel and Unusual

"Can I get a re-cap of the latest criminal justice news?" Yes. Yes, you can.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that California's prison population, which is at 179.6 percent of design-capacity, is so dense that it violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. "When it comes to prisons, the real problems are political and social ones, many deeply entwined with race," Linda Greenhouse wrote in the decision's wake. Sara Mayeux discusses Cali's options that would put the state in compliance with the decision in Brown v. Plata (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Plata,) but Gov. Jerry Brown says there is no way for the state to submit a plan for reducing the prison population by over 30,000 to federal judges by next week, in accordance with the decision. "It's going to take more than two years," Brown said yesterday.

Attorney General Eric Holder made news this week, urging the U.S. Sentencing Commission to retroactively apply the reduced disparity in sentences for crack- and powder-cocaine offenses. In the fine print of Holder's recommendation, though, he encouraged exempting 60 percent of potentially eligible inmates, reducing the potential savings by as much as 70 percent.

The so-called War on Drugs is a big, fat failure, writes Tanya Somanader. That is, unless you're in the armored car business. Who started this stupid war, any way?

Vermont became the eighth state yesterday to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries. Somewhere in the gap between theory and practice, that leaves another 8 states, plus the District of Columbia, where medical marijuana is theoretically legal, but dispensaries are not.