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June 28, 2007

Is federal judicial intervention necessary for California's prison woes?

This Los Angeles Times article reports on the indications that federal judges are prepared to intervene in order to get serious about remedying California's prison crisis:

Two federal judges charged with forcing changes to California's troubled, overcrowded prisons expressed doubt Wednesday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would turn the system around, and indicated a willingness to move toward capping the inmate population. Such a move could push California's correctional system — the biggest in the nation — to overhaul the way it sentences criminals or even, some say, trigger the early release of thousands of inmates.

In a federal court hearing, lawyers representing prisoners appealed Wednesday to U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento and Thelton Henderson of San Francisco to impanel a three-jurist court to impose a cap.  Schwarzenegger administration attorneys told the judges that recent progress on improving medical and mental healthcare for inmates rendered such a drastic move unnecessary.

Some related posts on California's prison woes:

June 28, 2007 at 07:27 AM | Permalink


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No release. None. No cap. No nothing. Or, if they do, let them live next door to the esteemed judges.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 28, 2007 10:29:45 AM

An example of what federalist calls justice:

"Lawyers for inmates called the decision one of life and death, saying prisoners die each week unnecessarily for lack of adequate medical care, while others become mentally unbalanced dealing with the stress of teeming, violent institutions."


Here's the truth:

Some corrections experts said tens of thousands of prisoners could be freed from prison without threatening public safety if inmates were carefully screened and given time-off credit for working or participating in rehabilitation programs.

Barry Krisberg, president of the nonprofit National Council on Crime and Delinquency, said he recently reviewed 14 studies of state and county early-release programs and found no increase in crime rates or the rate at which those who were released early returned to prison.

"There's 140,000 people a year released anyway" from California prisons, he said. "If you marginally release a few extra people, but if you do good risk assessment and provide services, you'll actually improve public safety."

Posted by: George | Jun 28, 2007 2:01:53 PM

The sacbee has another slant on it.

"In Henderson's case in San Francisco, the state admitted in 2002 that it was violating inmates' constitutional rights by providing them with inadequate medical care, to the point where one inmate was dying due to medical neglect every week."

federalist, what if one of these dastardly criminals was killing a persona week? What would you say to that?

Posted by: George | Jun 28, 2007 2:31:01 PM

Can somebody please tell me at what point were these two federal judges trained to run an entire correctional system? Or are we all simply conceding (what must be) the all too obvious fact that these two federal judges, above all others, are the most omnipotent individuals capable of tackling this issue.

Posted by: Large County DDA | Jun 28, 2007 6:36:24 PM

While medical care in state prisons is required by law (although I would argue that prisoners are not entitled to the best medical care), I don't see how freeing inmates is ever required by law. My personal view is that I would rather risk some unnecessary deaths of prisoners than public safety by releasing the wrong ones.

We've seen what wrong-headed judge-imposed release policies can do--the Rosebud Killer, Kenneth Macduff is but one horrifying example.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 28, 2007 9:07:43 PM


Federal judges have not taken over a prison system in a long time because they burned their fingers when they did so in the past. What they did in the past was to hire a master to advise the judge on how to manage the system. I read an article by a sociology professor who had been hired by a judge to be a warden at a prison (I think in Illinois). My recollection was that he was very happy when that job ended in particular that nobody was killed while he was in charge.

No Dept. of Correction wants a judge to take over their system but the yahoos in the legislature who refuse to take the threat seriously are the ones who should be held responsible. That probably won't happen because normally if anything goes wrong at prison the warden is fired.

I would think if they depopulate the CA prisons they would first speed up the parole process and take a look at probation violators and parole violators to see it they could be returned to probation/parole under fairly rigorous supervision. They probably would review the prison population looking for inmates who might do well on parole and accelerate their parole.
All of these measures would overload the parole board and community based correction both dangerous thing to do in my opinion. I hope CA is able to avoid a federal takeover.

Posted by: JSN | Jun 28, 2007 9:52:43 PM

I forgot Kenneth Macduff was in control of California.

The judges can't do any worse.

Posted by: George | Jun 28, 2007 10:19:22 PM

Serious question, federalist.

At what point do you think the politicians will be able to say this: "You are safe now. We don't need any harsher laws."

When 5 mil are in prison? 10 mil? When it's LWOP for any felony? Death for any felony?

Or do you think we made it once the crime rate is below a certain level? What would that be?

How do you envision the future if it were up to you and only you?

At what point could you claim victory without the need for any more harsher laws?

Posted by: George | Jun 28, 2007 11:33:51 PM

It is to what end the admin keeps scaring the public with what the terrible inmates will do if released. Many Lifers have been held so long past release dates. why have a parole board if the Gov does not release anyone found suitable? Why is the legislators afraid we may move next door. Familys are waiting to reunite. This mess was made on fear -real and imaginary.
A Lifer Wife

Posted by: Dee | Jun 29, 2007 11:12:00 PM

what people dont realize is, a large amount of these lifers are men who made stupid, and yes terrible mistakes when they were young adults, 20 to 30 years later, they arent that stupid kid, and all they want is to go home to be with their families but the parole board wont let them. remember they arent the ones reoffending.

Posted by: Nora | Aug 7, 2007 8:46:04 AM

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