Tuesday, May 31, 2011

SCOTUS: Prison Crowding, Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population by more than 25 percent, finding that overcrowding in the state’s prisons violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the 5-to-4 ruling in the case, Brown v. Plata, upheld a ruling from a three-judge panel in California that called for the state to release between 38,000 and 46,000 inmates to attain a population of 110,000, still more than 137 percent of the system’s capacity.

As California searches for the resources to comply with the Court's decision many continue to debate how the system became so overcrowded in the first place. There are over 142,000 inmates in 33 adult California prisons, reported the Monitor.

Conventional wisdom holds that “three-strikes, you’re out laws” are one of the main reasons for the overcrowding. According to the Monitor, riding a “get tough on crime” wave, California in 1994 became the second state in the nation to significantly increase the prison sentences of convicted felons who previously had been convicted of a violent crime or serious felony, and to severely limit judge’s freedom to give punishment other than a prison sentence.

Professor Kelly Welch told the Monitor that the decision is “actually a very practical decision,” that will help spotlight the consequences of voter choices to implement three strikes laws in the first place, which have not lived up to their promise of reducing crime.

“There is substantial criminological evidence that the incarceration binge of the last 30 years has actually not reduced crime. Thus, this has been an expense with no appreciable effect on crime. The decision of the Court to allow California to release a percentage of its inmates is probably a smart one, as it will reduce costs as well as treat the inmates that remain incarcerated more ethically by reducing overcrowding.”

To read more: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2011/0523/Supreme-Court-orders-California-to-slash-prison-population-by-more-than-30-000/(page)/2

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