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August 4, 2009

Federal judicial panel orders California to drastically cut prison population

This New York Times piece provides the highlights of a major prison conditions ruling coming from California late today:

A panel of federal judges ordered the California prison system on Tuesday to reduce its inmate population of 150,000 by 40,000 — roughly 27 percent — 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.

The special three-judge panel also described a chaotic prison system where prisoners were stacked in triple bunk beds in gymnasiums, hallways and day rooms; where single guards were often forced to monitor scores of inmates at a time; and where ill inmates died 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 panel wrote. “In short, California’s prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage.”

Attorney General Jerry Brown said previously that he intended to appeal the ruling to the United States Supreme Court. Officials said they would not comment on Tuesday until they had time to read the decision.

Thanks to this post at How Appealing, everyone can check out additional major medial coverage and the full 184-page order(!) at this link.  Here are the first two paragraphs of the ruling:

“California’s correctional system is in a tailspin,” the state’s independent oversight agency has reported. Ex. P3 at i (Jan. 2007 Little Hoover Commission Report, “Solving California’s Corrections Crisis: Time Is Running Out”).  Tough-on-crime politics have increased the population of California’s prisons dramatically while making necessary reforms impossible. Id. at ii, 2-5, 9, 20. As a result, the state’s prisons have become places “of extreme peril to the safety of persons” they house, Ex. P1 at 7-8 (Governor Schwarzenegger’s Oct. 4, 2006 Prison Overcrowding State of Emergency Declaration), while contributing little to the safety of California’s residents, Ex. P3 at ii.  California “spends more on corrections than most countries in the world,” but the state “reaps fewer public safety benefits.” Id. at 14. Although California’s existing prison system serves neither the public nor the inmates well, the state has for years been unable or unwilling to implement the reforms necessary to reverse its continuing deterioration.

In this proceeding, we address two particular problems that every day threaten the lives and health of California prisoners.  First, the medical and mental health care available to inmates in the California prison system is woefully and constitutionally inadequate, and has been for more than a decade.  The United States Constitution does not require that the state provide its inmates with state-of-the-art medical and mental health care, nor does it require that prison conditions be comfortable.  California must simply provide care consistent with “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981) – care sufficient to prevent the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain or death, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 103-04 (1976).  Tragically, California’s inmates have long been denied even that minimal level of medical and mental health care, with consequences that have been serious, and often fatal. Inmates are forced to wait months or years for medically necessary appointments and examinations, and many receive inadequate medical care in substandard facilities that lack the medical equipment required to conduct routine examinations or afford essential medical treatment.  Seriously mentally ill inmates languish in horrific conditions without access to necessary mental health care, raising the acuity of mental illness throughout the system and increasing the risk of inmate suicide.  A significant number of inmates have died as a result of the state’s failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical care.  As of mid-2005, a California inmate was dying needlessly every six or seven days.

UPDATE:  The Sacremento Bee has this new op-ed responding to the ruling, which is headlined "Voters, politicians let prison costs soar." Here are its closing paragraphs:

Make no mistake: California brought this situation onto itself, as the judges declared, by continuing to pass tough sentencing laws, such as three-strikes-and-you're-out, but refusing to spend what it would take to legally house, clothe, feed, medicate and educate what became a flood of new inmates.

When California launched this lock-'em-up policy 30 years ago -- the result of some Democratic legislators and judges losing their positions after being accused of softness on crime -- the state had about 20,000 inmates. Now it has more than 160,000.

There's an old saying in police and prosecutorial circles: Don't do the crime unless you want to do the time. A political corollary should be: Don't crack down on crime unless you're willing to spend the dime.

August 4, 2009 at 08:31 PM | Permalink

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Comments

"The minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Our prison officials and politicians have to be ordered to do that. To treat inmates as well as the "animal lovers" want animals to be treated? And, is Jerry Brown opposing this? He wants them treated worse than the minimum standard for animals. What about animal cruelty? Are not humans mamals? What kind of immoral people have we become?

Posted by: DLJ | Aug 4, 2009 10:12:52 PM

separate drugs from violence. our drug laws are dracaonian. a failed policy. DRUGS SHOULD BE AVAILABLE. ESPECIALLY PHARMACUTICLES. Don't sell and arrest people too_ a common practice NTFers do to make crime where none would exist. I'm a pain mngmnt person who also is a compassionate care giver. single parent home school teach.

Posted by: thomas clendenin | Aug 5, 2009 1:18:39 AM

There is one way the state could open a prison hospital with over a 1000 beds almost instantly and at almost no cost - convert Coalinga State Hospital from a warehouse for aging, LOW RECIDIVISM sex offenders, the majority of whom refuse to take the state's totally made up and impossible to complete 'treatment', into a prison hospital. Offer them freedom in exchange for GPS tracking and mandatory outpatient therapy and most of the current 'patients' would take it.

Regardless of whether the Supreme Court backs the state or not, California simply can no longer afford the faux-security theater its prison system has become. It is time to wake up and realize that "getting tough on crime" is a useless exercise in futility if you don't get smart about crime at the same time.

As someone who is simply an interested lay person, I believe converting CSH would be a huge step towards that goal.

Posted by: Joe Power | Aug 5, 2009 2:33:40 AM

When all of us begin to endure the same waits and denial of access to care under Obama's Commie Care, will these conditions still violate the Eighth Amendment.

Good preview of government Commie Care for anyone over 40, and any failing organ. We will all be Cali prisoners soon.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 5, 2009 6:48:37 AM

http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/3565992.html

Posted by: federalist | Aug 5, 2009 4:08:36 PM

From federalist's link:

"The Philadelphia prisons, which house defendants before trial and sentenced prisoners, have been the subject of various class-action lawsuits since 1972. Past conditions in the prisons have been unacceptable. Over the years, many experts have observed inadequate medical care that has led to the death of inmates, unsanitary food preparation, vermin infestation, and poor plumbing, ventilation, and heating."

People never convicted of any crime commit thousands of crimes every day, "including thousands of violent crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery."

Should they be in prison in our preventative state and if so, get the money to pay for it without "inadequate medical care that has led to the death of inmates, unsanitary food preparation, vermin infestation, and poor plumbing, ventilation, and heating."

Simple.

Posted by: George | Aug 5, 2009 5:48:43 PM

Finally!

It is about time CDCR has been taken to task. The problem is complex, but CDCR has known for years what has to be done, they just refuse to do it. There will always be crime. But a change in attitude on several levels is the only long-term solution: Follow the research results not the emotional appeal when enacting laws that involve sentencing, rehabilitation programs, parole rules and regulations, etc. Many can be rehabilitated, and rehabilitation programs should be developed and evaluated by behavioral scientists, not ex-custody personnel who have worked their way up. A minority do need to be in prison. That's what it's for. Make sure inmates are better prepared to take their place in society and that they receive community support once they are on the outside. This is not coddling, this is providing what they missed the first time around AND an investment in our future public safety. Finally, don't just rely on picking up the pieces at the end, but focus on solving the social ills that contribute to crime: poor education, poor parenting skills, lack of mental health treatment, misdiagnosis of educational and mental health issues, drug education, poverty, unequal opportunities, etc.

Elaina Jannell, Ph.D.
Psychologist
AFSCME Local 2620

Posted by: Elaina Jannell | Aug 5, 2009 10:07:54 PM

I am a tax paying "California born" citizen of the state of California and I think the "special judicial panel", for the release of about 40000 "convicted criminals", should be held criminally responsible as "accomplishes" to any crime these released criminals commit. They (the special judicial panel) should be as much responsible as any normal person who "helps" a criminal commit or cover up a crime. With the release of these 40000 legally convicted people there "will" be crimes committed that would not have been committed without their required release.

There is no constitutional right to health care! These criminals, having chosen to be criminals, should be required to provide their own health care, not requiring law abiding citizens (tax payers) to provide for them.

Posted by: Gary Hansen | Sep 8, 2009 7:35:08 PM

IGNORANT IS WHAT IT IS! WE AS TAX PAYERS HAVE SPENT BILLION OF DOLLARS ON SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS SUCH AS THE LAW ENFORCEMENT , PRISON GUARDS, THE DISTICT ATTORNEYS, AND JUDGES. THE MAJORITY OF CRIME THAT THESE IMATES ARE INPRISONED FOR ARE PETY CRIMES. THE POLITICIANS USES THE MEDIA TO VILLIANIZE THE VICTIMS,AND USE FEAR TACTIC TO SCARE THE PUBLIC. THEY DO THIS BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT THE AVERAGE CITIZEN IS IGNORANT ABOUT CRIME AND THE PRISON SYSTEM. IF WE TAKE A CLOSER LOOKK AT WHO IS BEING CONVICTED WE WILL FOUND THAT MANY OF THESE IMATES ARE INNOCENT AND JUST HAPPENED TO LOSE THEIR CASES. THE TAX PAYERS THAT ARE FOR LOCK THEM UP AND THROW AWAY THE KEYS PUT THE COPS, PROSECUTORS AND JUDGES ON A STATUS OF GODS NOT KNOWNING THAT MANY OF THESE SWORNED IN OFFICERS ARE SIMPLY CRIMINALS THAT ARE RELYING ON THE POWER THAT IGNORANT TAX PAYERS HAVE GIVEN THEM. IT IS THE GOVERNMENT THAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PROTECTING OUR BORDERS AND KEEPING DRUGS OUT OF THIS COUNTRY AND THEY HAVE FAILED MISERBLY AND HAVE INDANGERED FREE AS WELL AS INPRISONED CITIZENS.

Posted by: annie hall | Sep 10, 2009 7:09:41 PM

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