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Supreme Court rules on prison overcrowding

Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Recent Cases - Comments Off on Supreme Court rules on prison overcrowding

Supreme Court rules that California prison overcrowding violates the Constitution.

By a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California prison overcrowding was unconstitutional, perhaps forcing the state to release up to 40,000 inmates.  In his opinion, in Brown v. Plata, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that prisoners’ health and dignity were severely compromised and that a reduction in the prison population was needed.  When 200 prisoners live in a gym, and 54 inmates share a single toilet, Justice Kennedy concluded that minimal and basic health needs were not being met.  Extreme examples presented in court also included mentally ill prisoners who were locked in cages for days as they awaited a cell.  Kennedy commented that this violates an Eighth Amendment right to cruel and unusual punishment.  Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan.  Justice Scalia, in his dissent, wrote that allowing thousands of prisoners to go free was too radical.  Justice Alito, in a separate dissent, wrote that prisons should be run by the states as they chose.  It is unclear how quickly the overcrowding will have to be corrected.

 

What do you think?  Is severe prison overcrowding a violation of an inmate’s constitutional rights?

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