Supremes hear prison overcrowding arguments

Dec. 6th

On November 30th, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on whether to susutain a three-judge  California federal district court panel that found the California prison system overcrowding violates inmates right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.  That court panel ruled in January that overcrowding in the state’s prison system is the main cause of substandard medical and mental health care which violated the Constitutional guarantee.

It would appear that the entire criminal justice sysytem, as well as, defendants and inmates rights’ organizations are heavily focused on this issue. If California were forced to release up to 40,000 inmates (as has been orderred), there could be massive inmate releases in California and across the nation.

The court appeared to be split along historic political lines with more liberal justices lining up with the appellate panel and more conservative justices in opposition. What appears to be clear from oral argument is the real concern of most justices at the appalling degree of misery that overcrowding is causing. Even the more conservative justices seemed to acknowledge that much. As in many cases, the decison may fall to Justice Anthony Kennedy who is often the swing vote on the Court. He said the three-judge panel had made a “perfectly reasonable decision” that prisons jammed to nearly twice their designed capacity could not meet constitutional standards for medical care. But he also expressed concern with the rapid timeline and the number of prisoners to be released. It appears that this will be a close decision, and one that will have tremendous ramifications for states across the nation
Importantly for Reentry Court programs and other community-based alternatives to prison, if the lower court panel is upheld, there will be an immediate need to deal with an influx of parolees and to expand the resources to deal with those returnees. More to the point,we need to begin preparations now to deal with an influx of parolees to be released in the coming years , no matter what the Supreme Court decides.

For more info: SFGate

Supreme Court to hear Cal Prison Case

The U.S. Supreme court has agreed to hear an appeal of  Schwarenegger v. Plata, where a three judge appellate panel found  California to be denying prisoners adequate medical and mental health care, in violation of the “cruel and unusual punishment” provision of the U.S. Constitution. The Appellate panel ordered the State of California to reduce its prison population (now at approximately 150,000) by 40,000 prisoners, by December, 2011 (AP story).

In a similar vein, another recent news story told the sad tale of state’s reducing and in some cases eliminating prison based drug and other treatment/rehabilitation based programs (AP story). One can only hope that these programs are being cut back because of states’ intent to release drug dependent offenders, to be provided treatment and rehabilitation services in their communities. As unlikely as that may be, it will be incumbent on all to be vigilant and proactive in maintaining and expanding treatment both inside and outside of state prison walls.

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