Supreme Court Upholds Order to Slash California's Prison Population

Today the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order from a special panel of three federal judges requiring California to reduce its prison population from about 200 percent of intended capacity to no more than 137 percent. The five-justice majority, in an opinion written by Anthony Kennedy, said the order was appropriate and necessary to address Eighth Amendment violations caused by inadequate medical care. The state had conceded the violations but contested the remedy. The four dissenters—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts—agreed with the state that the judges, who were convened under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, exceeded their authority. In his dissent, Scalia called the order to reduce overcrowding "perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation's history," adding:

The Court disregards stringently drawn provisions of the governing statute, and traditional constitutional limitations upon the power of a federal judge, in order to uphold the absurd. The proceedings that led to this result were a judicial travesty.

Whether you agree with Kennedy or with Scalia, no one disputes that overcrowded prisons are a problem. The July issue of Reason, which will be hitting newsstands and subscribers' mailboxes any day now, features a special package of articles that ask how the U.S. came to imprison such a large share of its population, what the costs and benefits of that incarceration binge have been, and what the alternatives are.

I noted the oral arguments in the California prison case in November.

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  • TPTB||

    how the U.S. came to imprison such a large share of its population, what the costs and benefits of that incarceration binge have been, and what the alternatives are.

    Absolutely mind boggling.

  • ||

    I remember pointing out that the State of California was releasing people convicted of violent crimes--I remember spousal abuse being one of them--way back when the economy first hit the skids.

    And it should be clear to everyone now that the State of California cares more about its public employees and their pensions than they do about keeping the people of California safe from people who've been convicted of violent crimes.

    I'm not an anarcho-capitalist. Locking up violent criminals is probably the most essential function of government. A state government that can't even keep violent criminals locked up has no legitimacy with me.

    If they can't even keep convicted criminals in jail, then what business do they have doing anything else?

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    I'm pretty sure they haven't run out of nonviolent offenders to release.

  • ||

    Well, that can't very well free the drug users.

  • TPTB||

    Correct. Everyone knows drug users are potentially the most violent offenders.

  • James J.B.||

    Yeah but what is the scary effect of releasing nonviolent offenders versus releasing the mean and nasties? It is the same tactic when they "layoff" teachers and cops - you see it - you wouldn't notice the layoff of a few hundred mid level managers or the consoldiation of duplicative agencies - just like Californians will scream when one of the paroled kills/rapes again - then prisons get built, raises for the guards, etc. Win all around.

  • ||

    I buy this argument. Let's shut down the libraries and free Charles Manson. That'll get those stinking taxpayers' attention.

  • Almanian||

    ProL, I find your ideas intriguing, and would like the subscribe to your newsletter.

  • ||

    Sure, you can join the thousands of state and local officials already subscribing.

  • ||

    It is the same tactic when they "layoff" teachers and cops

    Exactly. The fucking prison guard union is the most powerful in Cali; do you think they'll take this lying down?

  • juris imprudent||

    Brings a whole new meaning to the Cali cartel, doesn't it?

  • Jerry||

    The drug users are all in federal prison.

  • ||

    VGO--same here. Can any Cal. resident inform us as to percentages of inmates in for violent crimes, as opposed to victimless ones (e.g. drugs?)

    I find it hard to believe there are really THAT many murderers, rapists, robbers, and child molesters (real ones, not teenagers bonking each other) in the state.

  • ||

    Call me cyncial, but I am willing to bet that if whoever is in charge of actually making the decision is on the California pension plan, and hell yeah, they are gonna let all the violent people go first.

    That way, they can say, "hey, it wasn't our fault, we were just obeying the Court's order."

  • Almanian||

    You're just cynical...

    (just trying to be helpful)

  • ||

    Why not throw in a reference?

    "SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Inmates convicted of violent crimes are among those being freed early from California jails to save money, despite lawmakers' promises that they would exclude most dangerous prisoners and sex offenders.

    An Associated Press review of inmate data shows that some of the freed criminals were convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, battery, domestic violence, and attacks on children and the elderly."

    ----Huffington Post March 31, 2010

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....20781.html

    I'm not makin' it up. This has been going on for a long time. I guess this means they're gonna have to go further down the list.

  • ||

    But as long as the state employees still get their big fat $500 billion unfunded benefits package--who cares if the State of California can't keep convicted violent criminals in prison!

    Is that what we're supposed to think?

    Usually, when I bring this up with my Democrat associates, they counter with observations about religious nutters, Gay Marriage and what Sarah Palin thinks she can see from her backyard.

    That's the most basic function of government. If they can't keep violent convicted offenders in jail? That's the definition of FUBAR.

  • ||

    ...who cares if the State of California can't keep convicted violent criminals in prison! ...That's the most basic function of government.

    Agreed.

  • ||

    Usually, when I bring this up with my Democrat associates, they counter with observations about religious nutters, Gay Marriage and what Sarah Palin thinks she can see from her backyard.


    In other words, they can not address the issue.

  • ||

    Yeah, none of them can answer a simple question about who is to blame for the legislature knowing that we've been releasing violent convicted criminals for over a year.

    Can't blame the Tea Party.

    Can't blame the Republicans.

    And this has been brewing for years. This suit was fought by Jerry Brown when he was the state's Attorney General.

    It's pure, complete, total incompetence by the legislature and Governor Brown, going back to when he was the State's Attorney General.

    Complete failure of the most basic government function. If they can't do anything about this, they can't do anything about anything.

    They are truly feckless.

    ...and if they're trying to fix the problem? That just makes their fecklessness even worse.

  • Aladdin Sane||

    I guess DSK should have committed his rape in California, seeing that they release sex offenders.

  • ||

    The LA County jail is so bad...

    I've heard that people plead guilty just so they can get out of LA County jail and go to the state system. Part of it's because once you're convicted, they segregate you according to what you've been convicted of, but I bet part of it is so you can get released into the wild quicker too.

    Why sit around and wait through your trial? My understanding is that that until you're convicted, they throw people charged with murder, etc. and people charged with drug possession all into the same population together.

    I've heard people say they'd rather do a year in the state pen than a week in the LA County jail.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I've heard people say they'd rather do a year in the state pen than a week in the LA County jail.

    This is a feature, not a bug. LA County is as close an analogue to Hell's waiting room.

  • ||

    I don't know about that.

    I keep picturing some frat boy at USC, who got the bright idea to buy a pound instead of an ounce--and resell it to make his money back...

    Being thrown in with some gangbanger who's up for his third strike on an assault with a deadly weapon charge...

    I'm not sure that's justice.

    If convicted felons would rather plead guilty so they can get out? That's not a place where people who have never been convicted of anything should have to wait for a trial.

    The punishment for being accused and waiting to be tried, in other words, shouldn't be worse than the punishment for being convicted. ...and if what people are telling me is true, that's the way it is.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I'm not sure that's justice.

    Ken, you operate under the illusion that we have a justice system. We have a legal system. The most obvious and appreciable difference is that so long as all the t's are crossed and the i's dotted, you can be deprived of life, liberty, and property, guilty or not.

  • ||

    I've heard people say they'd rather do a year in the state pen than a week in the LA County jail.


    Who were these people?

  • Nancy Pelosi||

    Nobody I know.

  • ||

    Friends.

    More than one person has told me that.

    I've had ex-gangbanger people I used to work with say it, and I've heard people I used to know in the Sheriff's Department say the same thing independently too.

    It's like that in a lot of big cities.

  • Spoonman.||

    Shit, in Dallas several years ago our Hispanic Lesbian Sheriff (how's that for identity politics) got sued by the Justice Department over conditions in the County Jail.

    The prison situation in the USA is an excellent issue to beat up Democrats over, because they haven't addressed it either.

  • Amakudari||

  • Mr Whipple||

    I've heard people say they'd rather do a year in the state pen than a week in the LA County jail.

    It's that way in Camden Count Jail in NJ. 4 deep to a cell made for one. Camden is classified as a "correctional facility", not a jail, so they can house state inmates indefinitely, and get paid by the state. In a county jail, like Gloucester County, state inmate must be shipped out within 30 days.

  • Just An Engineer||

    Ken you miss the point. The only way Cali is going to get any better is if they release all the violent offenders. Maybe that will finally be enough to wake those liberal pansies up so that they straighten the state out. I'm sure glad I moved to Texas.

  • MJ||

    There are, certainly, too many people in prison serving time for activities that should not be crimes. However, just generally ordering prisoners out based on some arbitrary reduction in numbers is not serving justice.

  • TPTB||

    It's not arbitrary. We put a lot of effort into coming up with that 137%.

  • Geotpf||

    There was no order to release prisoners per se. If the state felt like spending the money to build a couple dozen more prisons, no prisoners would need to be released at all. Of course, the state of California is completely and utterly broke, and, with three strikes, many inmates are automatically sentenced to extremely long terms.

  • ||

    "However, just generally ordering prisoners out based on some arbitrary reduction in numbers is not serving justice."

    I don't see the problem as being with the justice system necessarily.

    It's with the budget.

    If they didn't build enough prisons because Sacramento spent all the money on government employee union benefits--then how is that a problem with justice?

    If the California legislature is so incompetent that it can't incarcerate people without violating their right not to suffer cruel and unusual punishment, then the problem is with the legislature.

    We've known about this for years.

    This goes back more than a decade, and the State has doing nothing about it--except release convicted felons.

  • ||

    The Court disregards stringently drawn provisions of the governing statute, and traditional constitutional limitations upon the power of a federal judge, in order to uphold the absurd.

    Except, of course, for purely intrastate commerce stuff. Fuck you Scalia.

  • rather||

    They should release prisoners of non-violent crimes. Drug use, and victimless next.

    Any octogenarian cases need to be reviewed to determine if they are a threat to society, unheeding of their conviction.

  • ||

    I think they should release the socially oppressed first--blacks, Hispanics, women, gay persons, Asians, so on.

  • ||

    On second thought, the women of all races should be freed first, as they are more nurturing than the men. They likely weren't guilty of anything other than being female, anyway.

  • rather||

    I agree :-)
    Conversely, they should also practice random impressment to fill the prisons with men. It isn't like they all aren't guilty of something

  • seventy-eight||

    Minus clothing, of course.

  • rather||

    I have no objection to men not wearing clothes. Something about it will keep them honest

  • ||

    Uh, Janet Reno has a lot of blood on her hands. And I hate to break this to you but women can be just as violent as men.

  • Spoonman.||

    I am 99.99% sure ProL was joking.

  • ||

    You can safely add many nines to the right of the decimal point.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Overcrowded prisons are abuse, and the solution is releasing people who aren't a problem. Fuck California for putting itself in such a position in the first place.

  • ||

    "Fuck California" would make a good campaign slogan.

  • Virginia||

    We own that one

  • Almanian||

    NUH UH!!!!

  • Almanian||

    HEY! Quit stealing my line...

  • Canada||

    +1

  • GG||

    There are criminals and there are criminals. California's prison guards will no longer have to look over so many $20 drug dealers and still get get paid $70k a year with CALPERS retirement benifits.

  • ||

    More liberal use of capital punishment would also go a long way to solving this problem.

  • SIV||

    Allowing deadly force in defense of property by individuals would put a dent in both the prison population and the recidivism rate.

  • ||

    Allowing deadly force in defense of property by individuals would put a dent in both the prison population and the recidivism rate.


    Indeed.

  • ||

    Actually, death row inmates are usually housed in very high-security, higher-cost, lower-density prison conditions than the rest of the inmate population. An expanded death row would probably exacerbate, rather than mitigate even slightly, the California prison-overcrowding problem.

    Unless you want to go "Pol Pot" and summarily kill hundreds of people at a run. If so, the current technology used in California and other U.S. states is inadequate. You're going to need some sort of ChiCom or North-Korean-style set-up for mass shootings.

    And don't count on deterrence to do anything. Texas kills way more than California, but still has a slightly higher murder rate, and both states are more than double abolition states like Maine and Massachusetts.

    I'd hope that thinking about these realities, even for a moment, might give you some pause and cause you to think twice before you fire off another ill-considered message so casually contemptuous of human life. But I don't think so. I think where somebody like you ends up, inside their own heads, can only lead to more "motivated reasoning," in which you cling to your beliefs all the more ardently the more that they conflict with facts, logic and prudence.

  • Almanian||

    *pinch hitting for The Gobbler*

    Hello, Shit Facktory!

  • Almanian||

    Oh Danny Boy!
    Your mom
    Your mom is caaaaalllling
    You to your room
    To go to bed
    Tonight

    Oh Danny Boy
    Your glass of milk
    is waaaaiiiiting
    So go to bed
    We'll blog
    tomorrow again.

  • ||

    Tulpa, your ex-girlfriend is getting up in my face again.

  • cynical||

    It could have just been snark, you know.

  • ||

    Actually, death row inmates are usually housed in very high-security, higher-cost, lower-density prison conditions than the rest of the inmate population.


    And the death penalty is always expensive?

    How much did it cost to execute people in ancient Egypt, Rome, or Persia?

  • ||

    Correlation != causation

    Death row inmates are ipso facto the most violent of violent criminals. Sentencing them to life imprisonment won't reduce the level of security necessary in their confinement.

  • ||

    another ill-considered message so casually contemptuous of human life.

    If I harbored contempt for human life I would probably coddle murderers like you and the other CP opponents do.

  • ||

    Right, Commodore. Because letting the government kill more people is always what we want it to do. Especially considering how many people Radley's covered that have been exonerated from death row.

  • Almanian||

    Isolated. Incidents.

    WHERE IS YOUR RADLEY NOW, EPISIARCH?!

  • ||

    At the Huffington Post?

  • ||

    Exonerations from death row are proof that the post-conviction system works.

    You don't hear of many exonerations from life imprisonment, do you? Hmm. Either that means that the govt (it's really juries, but we'll use your terminology) is much better at determining guilt when the sentence is life imprisonment, or the life imprisonment oopsies don't get caught as often.

    Cory Maye, for instance, would never have gotten a new trial if he had been sentenced to life imprisonment instead of death.

  • ||

    I think Pima County SWAT is trying to solve that problem that way.

  • Jerry||

    How about Brown sends his prison population to Mexico, would that be legal?

  • Almanian||

    How about Brown sends his prison population the rest of the US sends California in toto back to Mexico?

    Better idea.

  • .||

    Send it back to Mexico? Fuck, in a few more years it will be Mexico.

  • Chupacabra||

    Who cares? We'll get the ATF on it.

  • ||

    Yeah look out for CA deciding to release people based on amount of time served, which means releasing the worst people first.

    I'm ok with a three strikes law applied to actual violent felonies. If someone is convicted of three rapes or three armed robberies or three assaults he clearly is beyond reform and is best kept locked up. But there are people in prison for life because they added a bar fight to a possession charge and a DUI. Upstanding moral pillar they might not be, but they aren't a serial rapist or a hardened thug either.

    The unfortunate thing is that locking up the bad people lowers the crime rate, and the public doesn't really care how many non-violent drug users or clients of prostitution go in with them as long as that hardcore violent section of the population is kept under lock and key. Everyone looks the same in prison orange. It would be good if your crime was stenciled on the front and back of your jumpsuit so everyone on the news or watching that show Lockup could see all the people in jail for using drugs or paying for sex.

  • Binky||

    It would be good if your crime was stenciled on the front and back of your jumpsuit so everyone on the news or watching that show Lockup could see all the people in jail for using drugs or paying for sex.

    "What're ya in for?"

    "Can't you fucking read?"

    Seriously, good idea.

  • ||

    "Fuck California" would make a good campaign slogan.

    If, by "California" you mean "the taxpayers" I'm pretty sure it has been (heavily) used already.

  • ||

    I mean all of the above. Even more than most Americans, most Californians have been complicit in their government's crimes.

  • juris imprudent||

    That's some pretty brave talk coming from a Floridian.

  • ||

    Florida? You mean a state that isn't a financial disaster? We're in pretty good shape, especially compared to most other states.

  • David||

    Not a FINANCIAL disaster, no.

  • ||

    More liberal use of capital punishment would also go a long way to solving this problem.

    By lottery!

  • Scott66||

    Death Race 2012: California Edition

    They could make everyone drive a Leaf or Volt so as to not upset the enlightened west coasters.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Nice. But a link to the "hand grenade" scene would have been the cheery on top.

  • ||

    locking up the bad people lowers the crime rate

    It does? Perhaps.

    Repealing laws? Definitely.

  • ||

    I guess we could repeal all the laws and have no crime. Somehow I don't think that would work out quite as you planned.

  • ||

    Yeah, it does. Prison is nasty place, but there are nasty people out there who must be kept locked up. There is a small percentage of people that are wired differently from normal people. People that kill, rape, steal, and attack with no moral qualm whatsoever. Maybe their parents abused them, or they have some kind of terrible genetic flaw.

    They did a study of Sacramento, I think it was, and they found that 85% or so of the violent crimes committed in the city were committed by a thousand or so people, overwhelmingly young males, most in gangs or some form of organized crime be it old school mafia or armed robbery crews or whatever. You find these people, you convict them, and you lock them up. The crime rate will then decline precipitously. It has, in fact, since 1980. The problem is a lot of people who've committed victimless crimes got swept into prison along with the real problem.

    Crime is not really a hard problem to get a hold of. You imprison those who infringe on the rights of others, and you do not let them out early based on good behavior or because you need room in the prison for another round of potheads.

  • WasabiPeas||

    hear hear

  • ||

    I wonder if there is any amount of overcrowding that would cause Scalia to find a violation of the 8th Amendment. I understand the concern about legislating from the bench. But at some point, courts have to step in. Fuck California for getting itself into this mess. That is no excuse to do what amounts to torturing people.

  • Almanian||

    Torture? They're making them watch Dancing With the Stars?

    *shudder*

  • ||

    Hines Ward is going to kick ass.

  • rather||

    He's good, and the Disney girl is dull but I like Kirstie Alley.
    The press has been so mean to her, and she has the sentimental Cheers/trek crowd

  • Patron||

    NORM!

  • ||

    Any Trek fan who harbors sentiment for Kirstie Alley should do themselves a favor and get beamed up with Transporter Code 14. Even the Vulcan Jesus guy from ST5 deserves more sympathy.

  • ||

    +420.

  • ||

    So waterboarding isn't torture, but having some extra roommates is.

  • rather||

    lol

  • Amakudari||

    Thank you.

  • Au H20||

    So, I've been out all day, but it seems I missed John and MNG mouth-fucking each other this morning. Those boys know the number of a good hotel, right? Hell, I even know of one where the maids never enter before 3.

  • asdf||

    Dominique?

  • Richard||

    Just got the July issue. There's an article about sex offender registries. Seventeen year old girl gives a blowjob to a fifteen year old. Many years later, the state wants her to relocate out of her hospital bed because it's around the corner from a school bus stop or something. I despair.

  • ||

    I guess we could repeal all the laws and have no crime.

    Now you're talking!

  • ||

    And now you're a positivist. Swell.

    Chameleons got nothing on P.

  • Lao Tzu||

    The more articulate the laws and ordinances, the more robbers and thieves arise.

  • johnl||

    Does this mean we'll get to let 30% of our prison guards go?

  • ||

    funny how those 'traditional constitutional limitations' only become a concern to these judges when it comes to taking power away from the state. of course, when the case deals with affirming state power, all bets are off. not a single one of the four has any business lecturing on constitutional limitations, after the ruling they collectively shit out last week.

  • Xenocles||

    Slashing the prison population seems pretty cruel, actually. I'm surprised the guards don't support this ruling.

  • juris imprudent||

    Only because they don't get to do the actual slashing.

  • Tony||

    Justice Kennedy slept on the left side of the bed thus time. All hail king Justice Kennedy!

  • GSL||

    Of course, the Governor and State Senate President have already given an entirely unexpected response to the ruling: "This proves we need more of your tax dollars!"

  • kiddclass||

    Damn it, my copy of the constitution is defective. It doesn't explicitly tell me what the prison population density should be! Does anybody have a good copy I can borrow? Does it also mention the minimum prison guard salary in it?

  • OO||

    effing judicial precedents, how do it work?

  • kiddclass||

    I think it works like this: 55% of guys/gals in black robes nominated in a purely partisan exercise of power overrule the will of the hundreds of legislators elected directly by the people.

    Or the alternative theory: Whatever justice Kennedy (or whoveer the current swing judge is) feels like on any given morning.

    It's that whole 'evolving standards are what WE say they are dammit" approach.

    There's a big gap between "We think the prisons are too crowded" and "The crowded prisons are cruel and unusual punishment".

  • kiddclass||

    OO let me clarify my disgust with the 'evolving standards' judicial approach.

    When I hear this, I think "Who's standards?" The community's? The country? The state? If the peoples standards change, then surely they can enforce them right? If the people of california think that prisons are too crowded and are cruel and unusual punishment, they have an outlet for fixing the problem right?

    My problem is the 'evolving standards' is really a codeword for "what we (judges) think the standard should be".

  • chaussures converse||

    Whether you agree with Kennedy or with Scalia, no one disputes that overcrowded prisons are a problem. The July issue of Reason, which will be hitting newsstands and subscribers' mailboxes any day now, features a special package of articles that ask how the U.S. came to imprison such a large share of its population, what the costs and benefits of that incarceration binge have been, and what the alternatives are.

  • Amakudari||

    A truly fascinating post. Keep it up, China clothing bot.

  • ||

    So the Supreme Kangaroo court Speaks lol.

    www.privacy-online.us.tc

  • ||

    I had to say it cann't understand why
    not they deserved their punishment?
    http://www.dvdboxroom.blog.com

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