On October 15, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States rejected California’s appeal of an order requiring the state to remedy inhumane prison overcrowding. The high court dismissed the state’s second appeal for lack of jurisdiction, granting the motion filed by RBGG and co-counsel on behalf of prisoners with mental illness. The Supreme Court ruling clears the way for full implementation of an overcrowding remedy that the prisoners won four years ago by demonstrating at trial that California’s prisons were so overcrowded that they violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
With the its last appeal dismissed, the state must now meet an April 18, 2014 deadline to reduce overcrowding in its 33 prisons to 137.5% of design capacity, down from approximately 200% of capacity at the time of the 2008-2009 overcrowding trial.
“The Supreme Court’s Order dismissing California’s latest appeal of the 3 Judge Court’s Orders is a strong affirmation and message to the State: Your prisons are still dangerous and broken,” said Michael Bien in response to today’s order. “There is still much work to be done to meet Constitutional standards for medical and mental health care. The federal courts will not accept a partial symbolic fix that has not remedied fundamental and serious violations that are still causing unnecessary and avoidable pain suffering and death.”
The state’s first appeal was rejected by the high court in 2011, in Brown v. Plata, 131 S.Ct. 1910. The state began complying with the Supreme Court’s 2011 order by realigning some prison admissions from the state system to county governments, with funding for the counties to use evidence-based approaches to reducing the need for incarceration. The state’s realignment program, however, could only get the state part of the way to the overcrowding limit. In 2012, rather than trying to reduce overcrowding to the required level, the state announced that it would no longer comply, and in 2013 filed a second appeal to the Supreme Court. This second appeal has now been rejected.
Removing overcrowding is a necessary step to bringing California’s prison system into constitutional compliance. The system violates the basic human rights of prisoners with mental illness in other ways, including through improper use-of-force policies, arbitrary exclusions from psychiatric hospital care, and overuse of segregation. RBGG is representing prisoners with mental illness in a trial that commenced on September 26, 2013 on these problems, and that resumes on October 16, 2013.
The class of California prisoners with mental illness is represented in the Supreme Court by RBGG, Paul Clement of the Washington, D.C. firm Bancroft PLLC, and the Prison Law Office.
Post updated on December 19, 2013.