Bench Memos

California Prisoner-Release Order

Yesterday, a three-judge district court consisting of Ninth Circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt and senior district judges Lawrence K. Karlton and Thelton E. Henderson issued a “tentative ruling” that (1) overcrowding in California’s prisons is the “primary cause” of the state’s “inability to provide constitutionally adequate medical care and mental health care to its prisoners”;  (2) “there is no relief other than a prisoner release order that will remedy the unconstitutional prison conditions”; (3) the Prison Litigation Reform Act’s limitations on judicial prisoner-release orders do not apply under the circumstances; (4) California’s prisons, currently operating at close to 200% of design capacity, must reduce their inmate populations to at most 120% to 145% of design capacity; (5) the release of prisoners down to the imposed caps—a release, according to this Los Angeles Times article, of “as many as 57,000” prisoners—can “be achieved without an adverse effect on public safety”; and (6) it is their intention to adopt an order requiring a reduction in the prison population “within a period of two or three years.”

 

It’s difficult to imagine a much less sober panel than these three judges.  Even California attorney general Jerry Brown, who is a wild-eyed supporter of liberal judicial activism, has criticized their ruling.  According to that same Times article:

 

Brown called the ruling “the latest intrusion” on California’s prison system by the federal courts. In a statement, he labeled the order “a blunt instrument that does not recognize the imperatives of public safety, nor the challenges of incarcerating criminals, many of whom are deeply disturbed.”

 

Maybe Brown ought to come up with a plan that relocates the released prisoners in the neighborhoods of those three judges.

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