Governor Brown Declares Prison-Overcrowding Victory, Tells Feds to Go Home

Thursday, January 10, 2013
Governor Jerry Brown

Governor Jerry Brown threatened a U.S. Supreme Court fight if federal authorities don’t relinquish their 7-year control of California’s prison system and stop forcing the state to pour money down a “rat hole of incarceration.”

The governor declared the “prison crisis is over” and the “job’s done” at a press conference on Tuesday, the day after the state handed over its admittedly deficient court-ordered plan for further reducing the prison population by June and improving inmate health care. The federal government has been in charge of prison healthcare since 2005 and overcrowding since 2009.

The takeover followed years of prison horror stories, frequent inmate deaths, severe overcrowding, deficient health care, defiant mismanagement and, in the end, lawsuits.

Changes in the law and a realignment that shifts incarceration to county jails have reduced the prison population from a high of 161,000 to under 120,000. But that’s still way more than the federal courts want done by June. The state says it’s going to be 9,000 inmates over the limit with no good prospects for getting much lower.

That should be good enough for the “nitpicky” courts, Brown told the press, considering that “gold plate” prisons provide better health care on the inside than the general population gets on the outside.  

If Brown’s administration does take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, it will be a return engagement. The high court already told the state in May 2011 that it had no choice but to do what the lower court instucted it to do and reduce overcrowding by the 2013 deadline.

Although Justice Anton Scalia called it “the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history,” Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion carried the day on a 5-4 vote. He wrote, “A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Governor Seeks to Lift Court Order on Prison Crowding (by Greg Lucas, Reuters)

Legal War Ahead on California Bid to End Federal Prison Controls (by Sam Stanton, David Siders and Denny Walsh, Sacramento Bee)

Jerry Brown Says Prison Emergency Over (by Wyatt Buchanan and Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

Gov. Jerry Brown Calls on Feds to Give up Oversight of Prisons (by Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times)

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