Monday, February 9, 2009

Breaking News: Federal Judges Order Inmate Release

Today, the District Court has issued its decision in the prison overcrowding case we have been following for quite a while. As reported by Reuters, the gist of the decision is that --

As many as 57,000 could be let go if the current population were cut by the maximum percentage considered by a three-judge panel. Judges said the move could be done without threatening public safety -- and might improve a public safety hazard.

The state immediately said it would appeal the final ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.


The three judges specifically said they planned to order the system, swollen to about double its capacity last year, to cut down to 120 percent to 145 percent of capacity within two to three years. They did not give a target headcount.

More on this to follow.


Anonymous said...

I like what the District Court was thinking, and they are bringing awareness to this issue by what they are doing. But that's the policy element.

Unfortunately, I doubt that the Supreme Court will uphold the ruling. While this is not precisely analogous, from what I know of Administrative Law, the High Court tends to defer to agencies on issues related to internal resource management. They are likely to view it as an institutional competence argument, that is, the prison system is in a better position to know the relative cost-benefit analysis of the effects of overcrowding than the judiciary, which is only responsible for analyzing the issue in isolation rather than in context of the totality of the budget.

However, constitutionally, if this issue could be pegged to a right which is violated by overcrowding, then there may be greater room for the courts to intervene. From what I gathered from the Reuters article that's precisely what Justice Reinhart intended to do, by noting Constitutionally mandated mental health and medical rights to prisoners. Absent the opinion I don't know precisely what the nature is of the right at issue, and whether its enough to overcome the deference that is typically afforded the government agencies and institutions in how they allocate resources.

Hadar Aviram said...

The decision itself (see the next post) doesn't discuss the constitutional aspect at length, Steve, though one would assume it's the 8th Amendment that's at stake. If you want to read more about the extent to which American courts have historically intervened in prison management, check out Malcolm Feeley and Ed Rubin's excellent book Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons.