May 23, 2011

California prisons 'cruel and unusual,' U.S. high court rules

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that prison conditions in California are so bad that they violate the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Opining that the prison system produces "needless suffering and death" through its failure to deliver minimal medical and mental health care to serioiusly ill prisoners, the court ordered California to cut its massive prison population by more than 30,000 prisoners (still 137.5 percent over capacity) within the next two years. Rather than releasing prisoners outright, the state can ship them to other states or keep them in county jails. As Adam Liptak of the New York Times reports:

The majority opinion included photographs of inmates crowded into open gymnasium-style rooms and what Justice Kennedy described as 'telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets' used to house suicidal inmates. Suicide rates in the state's prisons, Justice Kennedy wrote, have been 80 percent higher than the national average. A lower court in the case said it was 'an uncontested fact' that 'an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six or seven days due to constitutional deficiencies.'

The court's ruling in Brown v. Plata is HERE.

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