Tuesday, June 7, 2011

California Prison Crisis and Court Intervention

William Burrell writing on The Crime Report recently commented on the California prison overcrowding problem and the U.S. Supreme Courts intervention.

The U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Plata, was about California’s prisons, which are---and have been for years—massively overcrowded. In its ruling on May 23, 2011, the Court upheld the findings of a three-judge appellate panel which ruled that the conditions in California’s prisons violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The Court ordered the state to reduce its prison population by 30,000 inmates, to a population of approximately 110,000. Even with that drastic a reduction, the prison system will still be at 137.5 percent of rated capacity.

The Court did not prescribe how the population reductions were to be accomplished and gave the state two years to reach the reduced population level.

The original case in this ruling was filed in 1990, a second case in 2001. Multiple efforts by the federal courts over more than two decades had failed to motivate the state sufficiently to resolve the problem. In fact, during that period, California’s legislature and governors have passed numerous additional laws, such as the notorious “three strikes law” which have further exacerbated the prison crowding problem.

Even the state’s own actions suggest the depth of the crisis. In 2006, then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the state’s prisons, due to overcrowding. Yet the population remained unconstitutionally high. As Adam Liptak wrote in the New York Times, “The majority seemed persuaded that the passage of time required the courts to act”.

The case illustrate how democracies with independent judiciaries work to ensure that the constitutional mandates are met.

To read more: http://www.thecrimereport.org/viewpoints/2011-06-scorecard-high-courts-2-governors--legislatures-0

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