California State Prison Los Angeles, August 2006A federal panel comprised of judges based in Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco has ordered California to address its prison overcrowding crisis and to submit a plan to reach a prison population cap of 137.5% of design capacity in two years.  The Court found that prison overcrowding harms both the prisoners and the public.   Attorneys from the non-profit Prison Law Office and from two private firms, Rosen Bien & Galvan and K&L Gates, successfully demonstrated at trial that chronic overcrowding deprived prisoners of vital medical and mental health care, and creates unacceptable risks to public safety by releasing some 10,000 persons a month from overcrowded prisons to the streets. 

The population reduction is necessary because California’s prisons house twice as many prisoners as they were designed for, making the prisons unsafe for prisoners and staff.  The Court found that prisoners cannot get life-saving medical and psychiatric care in these overcrowded prisons.

According to RBG’s Michael Bien, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs: “We proved at trial that the status quo of California’s broken prison system actually threatens public safety and leads to crime in our communities.  The State should take this ruling as an opportunity to remedy the overcrowding problem once and for all.”

The Court found that:

“the evidence is clear that the state can comply with our order in a manner that will not adversely affect public safety. Indeed, the evidence is clear that the state’s continued failure to address the severe crowding in California’s prisons would perpetuate a criminogenic prison system that itself threatens public safety.”

What the media are saying:

California Prisons Must Cut Inmate Population, New York Times, August 3, 2009

Federal Judges Order California to Cut Prison Population, AP, August 3, 2009

State Ordered to Shrink Prison Population by 40,000 Inmates, Sacramento Bee, August 3, 2009