Federal Judges Threaten to Order Release of CA Prisoners

Three federal judges, after hearing evidence of California's ongoing failure to provide adequate health care (including mental health care) to state inmates, told the State it had lost the lawsuit and had better settle quickly if it didn't want to face an order requiring it to release as many as 58,000 prisoners over the next two to three years.

Everyone (except maybe the correctional officers' union) agrees that overcrowding is the problem.

Because prisons are jammed beyond capacity, they lack medical facilities, doctors and nurses, can't make sure inmates are taking medications or receiving treatment, and are triple-bunking inmates in gyms and other locations, the panel said. Such overcrowding increases the risk of spreading diseases among prisoners and staff, the judges said.

[more ...]

"The evidence is compelling that there is no relief other than a prisoner release order that will remedy the unconstitutional prison conditions," the panel said in what it labeled a tentative ruling after a trial in San Francisco last fall.

Reducing the inmate population could save the State $1 billion a year, a number that should penetrate the skulls of legislators (and Gov. Schwarzenegger) no matter how persuasive they find the union lobbyists. The risk to society is minimal if resources now devoted to incarceration are instead spent on community supervision, and if inmates on parole are given alternatives to incarceration for minor parole violations. Allowing sentence reductions for good behavior (once a common practice before the "tough on crime" crowd convinced the public that early release was somehow deceptive, giving birth to "truth in sentencing" laws) would, the judges noted, give inmates an incentive to behave better while they're locked up.

"Much of the evidence showed that [reducing prison populations has] been done in other states without having any impact on public safety," [Donald] Specter [of Prison Law Office] said. "It's safe, it's reasonable, it's necessary. It's too bad that it's taken a court to recognize this."

It's too bad the state's government can't recognize the obvious.

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    Catch and Release (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by kaleidescope on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:59:04 PM EST
    What judges Reinhart, Karleton and Henderson are considering is limiting California prisons to between 145% and 125% of design capacity.  (The prison system as a whole is at 200% of capacity, with some prisons at almost 300%.)  The state will be allowed to figure out how to meet that limit.

    Recently the California has been trying to limit overcrowding by moving prisoners out of state.  Private prison companies have been contributing lots of money to California legislators and to the governor.  This is terrible for the prisoners who get moved and for their families.  For example, I have plenty of resources, but it's still a major hassle and expense to drive four hundred miles to visit my stepson.  As it is, I try to visit him every three months.  If he's moved to a private prison in, say, Mississippi, that will be reduced to once or twice a year.  And that's for me -- a lawyer who is his own boss and who makes plenty of money.  For your normal poor family, visits are difficult enough as it is. If their loved one is moved out of state you can forget any visits at all.

    It's stupid for the state to pay huge amounts of money to incarcerate so many and to send so many back for technical parole violations.  But Sacramento has an endless appetite for making political hay by running against criminals.  So this is where the rubber meets the road for California.  The state is in a severe budget crisis.  Judges Reinhart, Karleton and Henderson are forcing the state to put its money where its retributive, vengeful mouth is.  

    Will the state let all of the pot growers, petty thieves and drunk drivers out, or will it pony up yet more billions to keep everyone locked up?  For almost two decades the state has criminalized more and more behavior and continuously lengthened sentences and sustained this insane policy by denying its true fiscal impact.  California will now be forced to actually pay for its obsession.

    Hey, we won't need no stinkin (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:41:17 PM EST
    bailout money in CA.  Just open the gates.

    Will officials release (none / 0) (#4)
    by jeffinalabama on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:45:13 PM EST
    nonviolent offenders first, or some hardened violent criminals?

    I ask this because, over on the orange, somebody was saying in Texas the violent criminals were let go, which allowed the legislature to talk about how their hands were tied.

    I'm hoping California is different... please tell me it is. Alabama released nonviolent offenders first when it was faced with the same.


    Not sure, given (none / 0) (#5)
    by oculus on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:51:41 PM EST
    the "three strikes" law and mandatory sentencing add ons under CA Penal Code.  Tough call.  I'm sure Dept. of Corrections would like to release the inmates requiring the most medical care, but thosse, in many cases, are older inmates there under "three strikes" and mandatory enhanced sentences. The inmates housed in triple bunks in the gyms are either newly sentenced or returning parolees who are awaiting classification.

    Thanks, oculus, for the info. (none / 0) (#7)
    by jeffinalabama on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:56:37 PM EST
    Oh, as a footnote, Stephen (none / 0) (#8)
    by oculus on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 09:03:27 PM EST
    Reinhardt,, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, is married to the lawyer heading the LA ACLU.  

    how many prisons in california (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jen M on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:44:51 PM EST
    are run by private contractors?  They don't want reduction of inmate populations. It's bad for business.

    There are some (none / 0) (#6)
    by oculus on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:53:15 PM EST
    Wackenhut-run facilities in CA for sentenced state inmates.

    Here in PA (none / 0) (#16)
    by Lora on Tue Feb 10, 2009 at 10:30:39 AM EST
    We had two judges taking $2.6 million in kickbacks for allowing a private juvenile detention center to be built while letting the government-run one atrophy -- then they sent scads of kids to the private jail, often over the recommendations of the parole officers.

    I hope there is plenty of oversight in CA to prevent any kickback situation with CA's private prison arrangement.


    No justice (none / 0) (#3)
    by Lora on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 08:45:11 PM EST
    How is justice served when prison conditions are appalling?  CA is surely not the only place, and overcrowding is surely not the only reason.

    Jury nullification (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jacob Freeze on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:02:19 PM EST
    Now some federal judges are saying that maybe one day fairly soon, or if not fairly soon, at least soonish, and even if it actually drags on for another ten years, that maybe after ten years, or eleven, or twelve, or thirteen......

    Maybe the inhuman and illegal conditions in California prisons will get a little tiny, tee-niny teency-weency bit better.

    In the meantime, let's just say "a friend of mine" served on a jury in LA last year, and there were smoking guns all over the place, and eye-witnesses, and physical evidence out the wazoo, and "my friend" still voted to acquit, even though eleven other jurors kept screaming at "him or her" because "my friend" wasn't about to participate in an ongoing criminal conspiracy to violate California law and about a hundred UN resolutions about inhuman prison conditions by voting to convict anybody of anything and putting them in a prison which was in and of itself a worse crime that what the defendant was accused of commiting.

    Here they go again!! (none / 0) (#10)
    by SoCalDem on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 10:49:26 PM EST
    This lawsuit has been lingering, the state was supposed to start releasing non-violent criminals last year. I know this because my son is in the prison system and we have been waiting. I figure he has a good chance of early release, he's non-violent, hes in a wheelchair and has medical needs that they just don't keep up with, I won't hold my breath though these Federal Judges have been threatening this same stuff for awhile.

    I dare you (none / 0) (#11)
    by daryl herbert on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:04:49 PM EST
    and you thought Prop 8 was a massacre.

    You let out 58,000 prisoners, and I guarantee you that at least 1,000 will be caught re-offending in short order.

    1,000 offenses--many of them violent--will be hung around those judges' necks like a millstone.  Then we'll get ballot initiatives that undo what the judges did, and then some.

    A state ballot initiative (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by TChris on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 11:27:05 PM EST
    can't undo the federal Constitution.  If voters were inclined to support a ballot initiative to increase funding for inmate medical care, I suppose they'd have done that by now.

    Seems to me (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Steve M on Tue Feb 10, 2009 at 12:12:31 AM EST
    that at some point the good people of California may wish to consider the option of funding their government.

    the best is yet to come!! (none / 0) (#15)
    by fly on Tue Feb 10, 2009 at 08:09:39 AM EST
    along with many programs cost cutting for many dem loved projects and institutions!!

    http://countusout.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/cnn-obtained-from-a-democratic-leadership-aide-a-list-of- some-programs-that-have-been-cut-either-entirely-or-partially/

    CNN obtained, from a Democratic leadership aide, a list of some programs that have been cut, either entirely or partially:

    -$300 million for federal prisons ...to be cut from budget!!

    sleep well!!