Commentary: Latest prison riot shows action is needed on overcrowding

If the latest riot at the state prison in Chino doesn't get lawmakers to reduce overcrowding, nothing will. While the immediate spark of the riot remains under investigation, everyone knows — or should know — that the underlying cause is overcrowding.

This prison, operating at almost double its intended capacity, has been highlighted by experts as a tinderbox for years. And the Chino prison is not alone.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide prison overcrowding emergency in 2006 — and it hasn't been lifted. As he said at the time, overcrowding creates "conditions of extreme peril." Overcrowding, he declared, "causes harm to people and property, leads to inmate unrest and misconduct, reduces or eliminates programs, and increases recidivism."

In prescient remarks before a state Senate committee in August 2006, then-corrections official John Dovey said that "the risk of catastrophic failure in a system strained from severe overcrowding is a constant threat." He concluded: "It is my professional opinion this level of overcrowding is unsafe and we are operating on borrowed time."

Two years later, California is still operating on borrowed time. The governor and Democratic leadership have proposed measures to reduce overcrowding, only to have them defeated. This dilly-dallying has consequences, as seen at the Chino prison.

In a four-hour riot on Aug. 8, brawling inmates destroyed several dormitories in a medium-security area at the Chino prison. They broke windows, tore doors off hinges, broke off toilets and sinks, tore off metal bunks bolted to the floor. One building was gutted by fire. Inmates also used broom handles, fixtures and broken glass to stab each other.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.