05/24/2011 03:33 pm ET | Updated Jul 24, 2011

California Prisons Will Still Churn Out Failure

Yesterday I heard a news report that the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered the California prison system to reduce its population by tens of thousands. That's a big deal for all residents in the state of California. Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic about its prospects for meaningful prison reform.

I expect the powerful lobbyists who represent the prison system will manipulate the ruling in ways that threaten public safety. Doing so would be in their best interest. I know that sounds illogical to people who have not been trapped within this system. But America's prison system has deteriorated into a gulag that thrives by perpetuating failure.

Instead of releasing prisoners who have worked hard to earn their freedom through merit, those with an agenda of securing high prison budgets at the expense of taxpayers will use a different approach in determining who gets out. I expect them to implement changes that will release those who have played the game of corrections, feigning their way through ridiculous programs that don't have any relationship to success upon release.

Prisoners who have worked toward earning meaningful academic credentials, built strong networks of support with law-abiding citizens, and demonstrated their commitment to leading law-abiding lives should expect resistance rather than encouragement. The system doesn't perpetuate itself by releasing such men. It makes its argument for growth by releasing prisoners who revert to criminal activity.

When thousands of prisoners return to prey upon society, then the lobbyists can bring the argument back to legislators. They'll argue that they need bigger budgets to lock more people in cages for longer periods of time. By manipulating the news, they will scare voters into sacrificing more resources from health care, from education, from other social services in order to feed the prison beast. And the cycle of failure will resume.

I'd like to see things with less cynicism. But 24 years of continuous imprisonment convinces me that no one wants the flood of public funds pouring into prison budgets to stop. The Supreme Court decision may have been a temporary setback, but the diabolical minds behind the prison machine will engineer mechanisms that ensure the failure factories continue.