Criminal Justice

Panel Would Address Prison Crowding

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Two federal judges in California have ordered the creation of a three-judge court to consider reducing inmate populations at crowded state prisons.

Judges Thelton Henderson of San Francisco and Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento issued the orders in response to suits claiming prisoner health care has suffered because of the crowded conditions, the New York Times reports.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals must consider the orders and decide whether to combine the cases under one panel.

Experts told the Los Angeles Times that the state may be able to implement measures that reduce crowding and satisfy the federal courts, so that early release will not have to be ordered.

Thelton noted that California has acknowledged the crowding problem. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed into law a $7.7 billion prison construction bill. But the judges said prisons can’t do the job without adequate personnel.

“While there remains dispute over whether crowded conditions are the primary cause of the constitutional problems with the medical health care system in California prisons, or whether any relief other than a prisoner release order will remedy the constitutional deprivations in this case, there can be no dispute that overcrowding is at least part of the problem,” said the order (PDF) signed by Henderson.

The judges acted under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which provides that any party seeking an order to reduce the prison population should file a request for a three-judge panel. The three-judge panel can act if it finds clear and convincing evidence that crowding is violating a federal right and there is no other remedy.

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