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U.S. Supreme Court

ABA Amicus Brief Supports Calif. Court Order to Reduce Prison Population

Posted Nov 2, 2010 9:14 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The ABA has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court that supports a court-ordered cap on California’s prison population.

The brief (PDF) says prison overcrowding has been shown to have a number of harmful effects on the medical and mental health of inmates, as well as those who work in jail and prisons. These health problems “can result in grave contraventions of the Eighth Amendment” ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the brief says.

The ABA submitted the briefs in Plata v. Schwarzenegger and Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, according to an ABA press release. At issue in the cases, accepted in June, is whether judges can remedy constitutional violations in prison health-care systems by ordering the release of inmates, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. Prison officials maintain they will have to release 46,000 inmates over two years to comply with the court order that caps prison population at 137 percent of capacity.

The ABA brief says the court order should be affirmed because it appropriately gave California prison officials the discretion to determine how to reduce prison population. The brief says there are several cost-effective options that could be “safely and immediately implemented.” They include:

• Early release on exceptional and humanitarian grounds.

• Increased use of alternatives to incarceration for offenders, including those with substance abuse and/or mental illness problems, who are deemed to pose no substantial risk to public safety.

• More effective parole and probation supervision policies that rely on graduated sanctions rather than automatic returns to prison.

• Rehabilitative and re-entry services aimed at reducing recidivism.

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