Federal Court Orders CA to Cut Inmate Population by 40,000

A three judge panel in California has issued a "scathing" 184 page opinion ordering California to reduce its prison population by 40,000 within two years.

The judges said that reducing prison crowding in California was the only way to change what they called an unconstitutional prison health care system that causes one unnecessary death a week. In a scathing 184-page order, the judges criticized state officials, saying they had failed to comply with previous orders to fix the health care system in the prisons and reduce crowding, and recommended remedies, including reform of the parole system.

How bad are prison conditions? [More...]

The court also described a chaotic prison system where prisoners are stacked in triple-bunk beds in gymnasiums, hallways and day rooms, where guards are often forced to monitor scores of inmates at a time, and where ill inmates die for lack of treatment.

“In these overcrowded conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent, infectious diseases spread more easily, and lockdowns are sometimes the only means by which to maintain control,” the three judges wrote. “In short, California’s prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage.”

Even with the cuts, California prisons will be at 137.5% of capacity. The Judges had some suggestions:

Such a reduction is possible, the court said, by ending the practice of automatically returning parolees to prison for minor parole violations and by increasing inmates' sentence reductions for good behavior and work participation in prison - proposals that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has previously endorsed.

The Court found prison conditions violate the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Both Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown said in the past they would appeal a ruling ordering this kind of relief.

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  • Display: Sort:
    As to medical care, CDCR, under the (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 06:12:06 PM EST
    administration of the court's trustee, has required each physician to pass a test designed by UCSD.  Some physicians lost their jobs.  Those who remain are paid a higher salary but have increased case loads.  

    My understanding is the inmates housed in triple deck bunk beds in gyms and dayrooms are going through classification process before being assigned permanently based on classification and available beds.

    And, with the State lacking money (none / 0) (#2)
    by MKS on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 06:20:28 PM EST
    Ahnold may indeed follow through.

    Judge Reinhardt, (none / 0) (#3)
    by MKS on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 06:25:22 PM EST
    bless his liberal heart, is still on the Ninth Circuit.

    I hope his decision stands....But it's hard to underestimate the public's disdain of inmates and wish to see them all killed or rotting in hell.  Someday things may change...


    Three judge panel, followed by petition for (none / 0) (#4)
    by oculus on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 06:33:02 PM EST
    en banc review.  Ricci redux.

    With Reinhardt's fingerprints on this, (none / 0) (#6)
    by MKS on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 06:46:16 PM EST
    I assume that the full panel will consider taking it en banc.  

    But, the three judge panel issuing the opinion appears to have made its own findings of fact; hence, the appellation of a special panel.  It thus may be harder to reverse.


    Three Judge District Court? (none / 0) (#8)
    by Michael Masinter on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:07:34 PM EST
    I can't find the decision yet on Westlaw, but I suspect this is a decision by a three judge district court, not by a panel of the ninth circuit.  See 28 USC 2284.  If so, then neither a panel of the ninth circuit nor the ninth circuit en banc will have jurisdiction to hear an appeal;  decisions by three judge district courts are appealable as a matter of right (not by certiorari) directly to SCOTUS.  See 28 USC 1253.

    Three Judge District Court Indeed (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Michael Masinter on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:13:59 PM EST
    Per the PLRA, only a three judge district court can order the release of prisoners.  Here's a link to the decision, which is appealable directly to SCOTUS:  http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/general/2009/08/04/Opinion%20&%20Order%20FINAL.pdf

    Reinhardt is a 9th Circuit Judge. (none / 0) (#9)
    by oculus on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:13:03 PM EST
    A federal district judge in Sacramento has been the point man on CDCR overcrowding and medical care system.

    Read the statute (none / 0) (#11)
    by Michael Masinter on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:14:55 PM EST
    Three judge district courts must include at least one member who is a judge on the court of appeals.

    LA Times article on this order doesn't (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:18:52 PM EST
    name any judges on the panel.  Also, Jim Humes, AG Brown's right hand man, says issue now is to formulate plan for release, not to actually release and appeal would await actual release order.

    Judge Henderson is on the three-judge (none / 0) (#14)
    by oculus on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:22:40 PM EST

    The courts are way over due (none / 0) (#5)
    by joze46 on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 06:39:53 PM EST
    The whole concept is new to me about an "Opinion" is an "Order". What the heck is this stuff of opinion of the court to order...?

    When ever they want to give opinion, well my opinion is the court is way dysfunctional to even let this chaos to happen...Isn't it crazy the court makes Judgement to put criminals in jail don't they...these judges need to be impeached. If they see the justice system is blotted stop the process and fix it. So after so much hardship now they take action.    

    They are way over due to order political parties like the Republican Right to bus people to town hall's where they have no business being...

    The Court is way over due to order the terminating of hate speech in politics...

    The courts are way over due to resign from incompetence abuse ignorance and the hate in the electromagnetic spectrum this judicial element is in plain public disconnect. This judicial element brought America to where we are now, they should be embarrassed and removed from office.  

    do you have link (none / 0) (#7)
    by Wile ECoyote on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 06:58:46 PM EST
    showing where the republican right have been busing people to townhalls where they have no business being?  

    Define hate speech in politics, please.  


    Hate speech (none / 0) (#16)
    by bocajeff on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:55:13 PM EST
    is any speech I don't agree with -

    both parties are equally disgusting when it comes to political tactics (Acorn, Unions, Churches, etc...) as well as some of the speech (Bush=Hitler). If the world wasn't coming to an end then I would find it comical.


    the "only" way to solve the problem? (none / 0) (#13)
    by diogenes on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:21:38 PM EST
    You either solve the problem of lack of medical care by increasing medical care or by decreasing the number of inmates.  The judge can decide that the present situation violates the eighth amendment, but when his remedy is only to release inmates rather than insisting that the state remedy the situation by some approach then this is judicial activism/legislation at its worst.

    The court-appointed received says the (none / 0) (#15)
    by oculus on Tue Aug 04, 2009 at 07:23:48 PM EST
    changes in progress re medical care won't be complelted for a year.

    Show Me The Money (none / 0) (#23)
    by john horse on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 09:24:05 AM EST
    The state had an opportunity to increase medical care and blew it.  You must have overlooked the part of Jeralyn's post where she wrote that this decision was based, in part, on failure of the state to comply "with previous orders to fix the health care system in the prisons".  

    By the way, another option to reduce prison overcrowding would be to build more prisons.  The problem is that improving medical care costs a lot of money.  Building more prisons costs a lot of money.

    Where is a state as flat broke as California going to get the money?  

    Maybe we should rethink who we are sending to prison.  We have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.  Incarceration is expensive.  That is why prisons are overcrowded.  Does everyone we send to prison really need to be there? Maybe if we took care of the problem on the front end, we would have to have judges taking care of the problem on the back end.    


    consent decrees (none / 0) (#26)
    by diogenes on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 07:14:36 PM EST
    In other states, judges impose court orders for mandatory treatment/staffing ratios in state hospitals, etc.  Then California would be in contempt unless it finds the money or releases the inmates.
    So if California "blew it" then some one should be found in contempt and jailed, assuming that there was a controlling court order here.

    The Governor could get out his pardon pen (none / 0) (#17)
    by andgarden on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 12:02:43 AM EST
    and solve this, no? Not like he's ever running for anything again.

    I'm not familiar with the details, but this sounds like a very good example of why we have judicial review. The political branches could likely never correct this kind of problem.

    Gov. is amenable to clemency (none / 0) (#18)
    by oculus on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 12:13:18 AM EST
    to reduce sentences of non-violent, non child-molesting defendants.

    Sounds good to me (none / 0) (#19)
    by andgarden on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 12:16:33 AM EST
    the next thing I would worry about is whether there would be sufficient reintegration services?

    It's going to cost some real money to fix this problem.


    Parole and probation budgets have already (none / 0) (#20)
    by oculus on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 12:17:25 AM EST
    been slashed.  

    That's what he should do (none / 0) (#21)
    by Rojas on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 12:31:08 AM EST
    If he let's it run on auto pilot a lot of the real bad actors will get pushed though on good time and time served on reduced sentences. It's less risk politically but innocent people will pay.
    I can't believe they are leting then run at 140% of capacity. I think the limit was ~87% when Texas was under court supervision.

    The problem is the DrugWar (none / 0) (#22)
    by SeeEmDee on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 08:07:51 AM EST
    As most of those let loose will have been low-level drug law offenders. Who shouldn't have been in there to begin with, if this country had sane laws regarding drugs. As it is, their incarceration cost the taxpayer's plenty...and now it's a cost that cannot be borne any longer.

    No more slapping band-aids on sucking chest wounds. The DrugWar led to the massive surge in prison building and incarceration, all paid for by the taxpayers, who need that money, themselves, now. it's long past time this country had a national debate on the origins and purpose of the DrugWar with an eye towards whether it should be continued (who's gonna pay for it?) or whether it should be scrapped.

    This where where there strikes (none / 0) (#24)
    by Chuck0 on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 09:56:32 AM EST
    is shooting California in the foot. "Git tuff on crime" politicians never tell the populace what these get tough measure will cost them. Three strikes is bad law just like mandatory minimums. Offenders should be sentenced based on the individual crime and the merits of their circumstances.

    Gov. Granholm (none / 0) (#25)
    by jbindc on Wed Aug 05, 2009 at 12:45:22 PM EST
    said she would prefer that Michigan take some of CA's prisoners, rather those those from GITMO.