日期:2011-06-03 10:44


Prison overcrowding

win for dignity

The Supreme Court orders California to make its prisons more humane

May 26th 2011 | LOS ANGELES | from the print edition

Not that unusual不足为奇

ANTHONY KENNEDY, appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan and in effect its swing vote nowadays, has for years been speaking out against the inhumane conditions inside America’s prisons. As a native of California, he has also taken an interest in that state’s particularly horrendous prison overcrowding. In Los Angeles last year, he called it “sick” that the state’s prison-guards union had sponsored a notorious ballot measure that, with other sentencing excesses, now keeps far too many Californians locked up.

由罗纳德??里根(Ronald Reagan)委任的最高法院法官,实则现在法院提案关键投票者的安东尼??肯尼迪(Anthony Kennedy),在过去的几年里挺身而出,直言抗议美国监狱的非人性化环境。作为一个加州人,他对州里极其糟糕,人满为患的监狱环境也很关注。去年在洛杉矶,他说加州狱警工会出台的有名的表决措施很“恶心”,再加上判刑过重,加州监狱现在的在押人数实在太多。

So it was no surprise that Mr Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in a 5-4 decision by the court this week that orders California to reduce its prison overcrowding. Full capacity is defined as one inmate per cell, which in California currently means 80,000 prisoners. But California’s prisons have at times housed twice as many, with inmates stacked in bunk beds in gymnasiums. At the moment, the prisons are about 175% full. The court order requires that ratio to go down to a slightly less egregious 137.5% within two years.


Overcrowding has meant not only more violence but woefully inadequate health and mental care, with more deaths and suicides. “When are you going to avoid or get around people sitting in their faeces for days in a dazed state?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor testily demanded of a lawyer representing California last November. Mr Kennedy, in his opinion this week, referred to an inmate who had been held “in a cage for nearly 24 hours, standing in a pool of his own urine, unresponsive and nearly catatonic.”

监狱的过度拥挤不仅意味着更多暴力现象的产生,而且犯人们的身心也会极不健康,导致死亡和自杀人数增加。“你何时才能避开那些神智不清且好几天都夹带着粪便的人去透透气呢?”去年11月,索尼亚??索托梅雅法官(Sonia Sotomayor)被来自加州的法官代表这样质问到。本周肯尼迪(Kennedy)提到一个犯人,说他在牢中关了将近一天,站在自己的小便里,神情恍惚,几近昏厥。

Such conditions are, in Mr Kennedy’s words, “incompatible with the concept of human dignity” and amount to unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment”. The four judges who are considered liberal agreed; the four conservatives did not. For Justice Samuel Alito, the case was a matter not of dignity but of public safety. The decision, he said, will force California to release “46,000 criminals—the equivalent of three army divisions”.

用肯尼迪的话来说,这样的环境与“要尊重人格尊严的理念格格不入”,也是违反宪法的“残忍且罕见的处罚”。在大家看来比较开明的四位法官同意他的观点,而另外四位保守型法官则不同意。对塞缪尔??阿利托(Samuel Alito)法官来说,这个案子无关尊严,而有关公共安全问题。他说,那项提案将迫使加州释放“4万6千名囚犯——相当于三个师。”

That is quite an exaggeration, and not only in numbers. First, the decision itself does not order releases. In theory, California could build new prisons or send inmates out of state to reduce the ratio to 137.5%. Given the state’s budget crisis, that is admittedly unlikely. But California can also transfer inmates to county jails. As it happens, Jerry Brown, the governor, is trying to do that anyway, and is haggling over the details with local administrations.

这种说法实在夸张,而且不仅仅是数字上的夸张。首先,提案本身并未要求释放囚犯。按理说,加州可以通过新建狱所,或将囚犯送往其他州的监狱而将比率减至137.5%。考虑到州的赤字危机,这种方法诚然不太可能实现。但加州也可将犯人转移至县监狱。无巧不成书,州长杰里??布朗(Jerry Brown)正想尽办法无论如何也要转移囚犯,同时正与地方政府就细节事项讨价还价。

More generally, many prisoners can indeed be released without any threat to public safety. What caused this overcrowding in the first place were the draconian sentencing laws that now unnecessarily keep huge numbers of entirely non-violent inmates behind bars: for smoking dope or writing bad cheques, say, or for missing parole appointments.


More puzzling yet was the tone of the other dissent, by Antonin Scalia. Calling the proceedings “a judicial travesty”, Mr Scalia wrote that the decision will benefit inmates who “will undoubtedly be fine physical specimens who have developed intimidating muscles pumping iron in the prison gym.” That was the language of sarcasm, not dignity.

更让人不解的是持反对意见的安东??斯卡利亚(Antonin Scalia)法官的论调。把这个议程称作是“对司法的嘲弄”,他写到,该提案会便宜了有些囚犯,他们“无疑会成为体魄强壮的家伙,在监狱的健身房里举着铁管上下摆动,练出有威慑力的肌肉”。这是挖苦人的话,而不是尊重人的话。

  • swingn. 摇摆,改变,冲力 v. 摇摆,旋转,动摇
  • measuren. 措施,办法,量度,尺寸 v. 测量,量
  • conceptn. 概念,观念
  • decisionn. 决定,决策
  • avoidvt. 避免,逃避
  • threatn. 威胁,凶兆 vt. 威胁, 恐吓
  • inadequateadj. 不充分的,不适当的
  • violencen. 暴力,猛烈,强暴,暴行
  • mentaladj. 精神的,脑力的,精神错乱的 n. 精神病患者
  • capacityn. 能力,容量,容积; 资格,职位 adj. (达到最