In December 2008, Rosen Bien & Galvan attorneys completed 14-day trial on prison overcrowding. On February 9, 2009, the Court issued a tentative ruling regarding overcrowding and public safety.   Updated Mar. 31, 2009 with link to new NPR story on nationwide movement to reduce prison crowding, prison budgets and crime.

After a 14-day trial on the harmful effects of prison overcrowding for both prisoners and the public, a special three-judge court issued a tentative ruling on February 9, 2009. Attorneys from the non-profit Prison Law Office and from two private firms, Rosen Bien & Galvan and K&L Gates, demonstrated at trial that chronic overcrowding deprived prisoners of vital medical and mental health care, and harms public safety.

The Court’s tentative ruling found that “California’s overcrowded prison system is itself, as the Governor as well as experts who have testified before the Court have recognized, a public safety hazard.” The Court’s tentative ruling does not anticipate ordering a wholesale release of prisoners, but rather a gradual reduction in the prison population. The Court reviewed the ample evidence presented at trial that other states have reduced their prison populations through changes in parole policies and sentencing credits, without reliance on early release of prisoners who would not otherwise have been released.

The Court noted that these changes can improve public safety by reducing prisoner recidivism.California prisons are currently running at nearly 200% percent of design capacity. Officials responsible for other state prison systems and for many of California’s county jails testified that the safety of both prisoners and staff are compromised when prisons are run beyond their design capacity. The Court ruled tentatively that California would have to reduce its population to between 120% to 145% of design capacity within a period of two to three years.

California State Prison Los Angeles, August 2006 Photo: CDCR Website.

The Court’s tentative order can be found Here.

Recent coverage of the Court’s order can be found at the links below.

  • California Can Join Hawaii and Kansas In Cutting Prison Crowding, Budgets and Crime, NPR Morning Edition, March 31, 2009
  • The Prison Overcrowding Fix, New York Times, February 11, 2009
  • Court Orders California to Cut Prison Population, New York Times, February 10, 2009
  • Judges Back a One-Third Reduction in State Prison Population, LA Times, February 10, 2009