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More Foot Dragging In California Prisoner Release Case

More Foot Dragging In California Prisoner Release Case

A last minute effort by the California state officials to avoid, even temporarily, submitting a release plan for approximately 46,000 prisoners by September 18th was rebuffed by the United States Supreme Court.  In asking the Supreme Court to intervene, state officials argued that developing a plan by the September 18th deadline would take attention away from other pressing state business at a time when the state’s resources and personnel are limited due to the state’s historic budget crisis.  Furthermore, the state argued, the release of so many prisoners would create an immediate public safety threat to California at a time when the state is simply unequipped to handle any upsurge in criminal activity.

The case involves an August 4th ruling of a three-judge U.S. District Court panel.  The panel found that serious overcrowding in the state’s prison system had risen to the level of threatening the health and safety of those working at the facilities, as well as the prisoners housed there and issued a prisoner release order.  The ruling is based on an interpretation of the 1996 federal Prison Litigation Reform Act.  Under the Act, before a prisoner release order can be issued a court must find that overcrowding was the “primary cause” of unconstitutional conditions.  According to the District Court, the overcrowding is the direct cause of the prison’s system failure to provide adequate medical and mental health care to prisoners and can only be remedied by immediate release of prisoners.

The case originated as two separate prisoner challenges to medical or mental health care.  One of the two cases has been pending in court for 19 years, and the other for eight.  Throughout the history of those cases the court has issued a series of remedial orders, but none have done the trick.  In issuing the prisoner release order the District Court said that the “outlook for California’s prisons has only grown dimmer.”

That does not mean that nearly 50,000 prisoners will be released by the end of September, though.  The original order from the District Court indicates that a final order will not be implemented until the United States Supreme Court has had the opportunity to review the decree.  That means simply that California needs to come up with a plan, but that actual implementation of that plan will wait until the Supreme Court has had an opportunity to review it. 

That said, it is becoming clear that the state doesn’t have even the outline of a plan in place in order to comply with the District Court.  What is not at all clear is what happens if the state fails to meet that September 18th deadline.  Presumably the prisoners will bring a motion demanding the state show the cause of its inability to comply, or the state will submit a patently insufficient plan knowing it will be rejected by the District Court and Supreme Court. 

Either way prison reform advocates wonder if the state is even participating in this process in good faith.  Much like the current foot-dragging with health insurance reform, the longer California officials delay implementation of the District Court Order, the more danger staff and prisoners face.  The conditions at these facilities are inhumane and California has been ordered to clean them up.  Now it’s time to act.

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photo courtesy of amandabhslater via Flickr

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15 comments

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6:47PM PDT on Aug 14, 2010

I have met my husband over 10 yrs ago and became best friends we were mrried lst year. He has serveed 21 yrs in prison on a 15 to life term we hired an investigator to prove his innocents and he found alot of evidence proving but due to finance we had to put on hold it is sad because there are some innocently incarcerated and it is due to a corupted system what happend to justice even being free of write ups and trouble for 10 yrs he is still having a hard time with the parole thier latest excuse of denial " Everything was good including his closing statement reason of denial last psych evaluation stated low/mod even his lawyer said that was B.S

10:18PM PDT on Sep 17, 2009

I say we need to get these people out of prison! FAST...our justice system is broke and many prisoners are wrongfuly imprisoned.
We as americans have the rigt to protect our justice system from making these mistakes we just need to start speaking up!

4:44PM PDT on Sep 17, 2009

ON another note:
My sister and tons of my friends work for the department of corrections. They are at risk as well. And let's talk about furlough days. These people risk their lives on a daily basis with the criminals that deserve to be there!! MY sister's co-worker was murdered in there!! But yet they want to keep low level prisoners in there and take away their paychecks. Ask a correctional officer what they think. They will tell you start releasing the one's who have a few months left and non-violent criminals. It will save their job and state tax dollars. And by the way how many are death row? Too many, the next question so why keep them alive for 20 yrs? Put them down as soon as they're sentenced. That will save tax dollars. How many are illegals? again too many. Get them out of here. Oh but they say keep them here till they serve their time, yea lets keep paying for their housing. I say Reform and Release NOW!!

4:37PM PDT on Sep 17, 2009

Well I would like to say look at me I am officially a felon, Wow, never thought it could happen to me, only pure ignorance of the county and the State of California. I don't have to explain anything to anybody but seriously I was working for a political party minding my own business but they say PERJURY, BS!! So now anything I do wrong even to getting a speeding ticket can send me to prison. I pity the ignorance of people whom cry that they are paying too much taxes then want a tax break but at the same time dont want the government to take their money. So let's keep them in there and keep taking your tax dollars. Or shall we find a solution? I believe half the people in there are entitled to some early release, Some of the sentences are harsh to the crime commited. Don't get me wrong I do believe in do the crime do the time, but how much time. And honestly how many of the same crying taxpayers drink? Or have done something illegal, well stats say almost all of us have, u just didn't get caught!! Just pray you don't, cause the next time it will be your family who will be paying for your home away from home for you. Pure Ignorance.

12:13PM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

I live in CA and would hate to see these people leave prison. It would mean to the law breakers that he/she could break the law at all times with no consciences. That would be wrong. I do not want any released in my town.... I SUPPORT keeping them locked up. The police forces are at minumum. We can not realease these people and have any form of punishment for wrong done.

10:33AM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

I apologise to all you good people who will undoubtedly disagree with me BUT, these people are in prison for a reason; they broke the law in some way or other and prison should not be a holiday camp, but many are. If prison is an extremely unpleasant experience, perhaps they will think twice before offending again, thus bringing down the prison population. I say leave them there, until they have served their sentences.

10:12AM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

Everything is so expensive but if they let out all these prisoners early that the crime rate will go through the roof.

8:43AM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

Seems to me it's going to be you know what to pay when they start letting people out that have done crimes -- I hear that even someone who had 160 years for raping women is going to be released -- will California allow rapists go free also? We are in a recession and people cannot find jobs as it is -- what's going to happen when all these people are out looking for work and can't find them or are we going to give prisoners jobs and not people who have lost jobs who obey the law? Are they going to commit crime to get by if they cannot find jobs like people who have been looking for work over a year?

6:59AM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

This is not a good thing. Letting these people go, send them to other prisons, once out of jail they could end up anywhere commting crimes. i dont trust them and dont believe they can be rehabilitated and besides the food stamp and the health care they will receive will put this country over the top as illegals are getting healthcare and taking away from legal residents of the U.S. I believe some prisoners like to be there as they get free everything. statistic once they have been out they will be back again. the mind is a scary thing when it comes to people in jail. they might end up in shelters where there are non criminals maybe even children. has anyone thought about the children. why not put them somewhere to work in another facility. What bunch of losers seriously now.

6:37AM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

There are a lot of crimes that are so-called "non-violent" that still have serious repercussions on the local environment. Various forms of non-violent thievery(breaking and entering, car theft etc ,drug dealers etc ae a couple which come to mind just off the top of my head, would surely not make me real comfortable to know those individuals are back on the streets. As an ex-con who served two prison terms, I've news for ya'll. Since most crime is somehow related( in a myriad of ways) to drugs and alcohol, and those substances are readily available, guess what's going to happen. The recidivist rate is something around 90% according to my ex-Parole Officer. So.....when these offenders repeat their crimes what do you do? Say, oops sorry, no room for you? Why don't we stick you in a rehab or halfway, or three-quarter or, or. Ah heck we know the success rate is only about 1 in 5, but we can go through the motions and hide our heads in the sand...until we get seriously kicked in the butt. Also, releasing those with only a couple of paddles in the water borders on cruelty. There aren't enough qualified people or programs to help them after they're out. So where do they go?? Guess.

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