On Monday morning, May 23, 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a historic 5-4 opinion in Brown v. Plata, affirming in its entirety the January 2010 decision of a special three-judge court.  The three-judge court ruled that California’s state prison system must bring its extreme overcrowding under control in order to allow medical and mental health staff the ability to provide minimally humane care to prisoners.

RBGG represents the class of all California state prisoners with severe mental illness in the Coleman v. Brown litigation, which was combined with another civil rights case, Plata v. Brown, for trial of the overcrowding issues.  RBGG, with Paul Clement of Bancroft LLC, and Ashley Parrish of King & Spalding, briefed the case at the Supreme Court on behalf of the Coleman class.  The Prison Law Office briefed the case for the Plata class.

Public safety issues have been at the forefront of the litigation both during the 2008-2009 trial and at the Supreme Court.  Law enforcement officials from many states joined with the prisoner plaintiffs in urging the Supreme Court to affirm the three-judge panel’s findings that extreme prison overcrowding itself threatens public safety, and prevents California from adopting proven alternatives to prison overcrowding that have been shown to improve public safety.

The Supreme Court’s opinion in Brown v. Plata received front page media coverage and wide editorial page support in major publications around the nation.  Links to selected articles and editorials are provided below.  The Associated Press story quoted RBG’s Michael Bien: “’They’ve made a lot of plans already,’ said Michael Bien, one of the attorneys who sought the ruling on behalf of mentally and physically ill inmates who suffered in severely crowded conditions. ‘We’re sure it can be done safely and appropriately. What’s more, it will save a lot of money.’”

The Monterey County Herald also quoted  Bien: “’There’s some urgency to get this thing rolling. The Supreme Court agreed with that urgency.’  Bien agreed with Cate’s assessment that the reduction can come about without releasing inmates early. He said he was concerned about news reports Monday that warned of the release of 40,000 or more inmates. ‘There’s no order to release anybody,’ Bien said.”

The Los Angeles Times quoted Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office, RBGG’s co-counsel in the case, as saying, “this landmark decision will not only help prevent prisoners from dying of malpractice and neglect, but it will make the prisons safer for the staff, improve public safety and save the taxpayers billions of dollars.”

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