Supreme Court Upholds Ruling to Reduce California Prison Population

Supreme Court Upholds Ruling to Reduce California Prison Population

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Oakland - This morning the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed a previous court order requiring the state of California to reduce dramatically the number of people in its horribly overcrowded state prison system. The long awaited ruling came in the conjoined Plata and Coleman cases on the terrible health and mental health conditions caused by severe overcrowding in California state prisons. California will have two years to reduce overcrowding by 46,000.

“This landmark decision opens an important new chapter in California’s long struggle over whether to expand or contract our bloated prison system,” says Emily Harris, statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget or CURB, a broad statewide coalition working to reduce the number of people in California’s prison system.

“This is an important moment for California to push forward much needed parole and sentencing reforms to reduce California’s prison population, including for example amending or repealing Three Strikes, releasing terminally ill and permanently medically incapacitated prisoners, eliminating return to custody as a sanction for administrative and technical parole violations, reforming drug sentencing laws, and many other reforms that have been proven to reduce incarceration rates and corrections costs while improving public safety,” continued Harris.

The three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit approved a plan from former Gov. Schwarzenegger to use AB 900 lease revenue bonds to build tens of thousands of new prison and jail cells, increase out of state transfers and expand programming to reduce recidivism. Gov. Brown has added “re-alignment” to these strategies.

Under “re-alignment” tens of thousands of people convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sex crimes will serve their sentences under county rather than state supervision. This is a significant revision of the court-approved plan that raises major concerns about California passing overcrowding from state prisons to county jails.

“County jail expansion does not solve the underlying problems,” says Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of “Golden Gulag,” a book the San Francisco Chronicle called “the first must-read book of the 21st century” for those concerned with California prisons.

“We know that public safety is a direct outcome of public education, affordable housing and living-wage jobs. These are goals we can achieve now if we take this opportunity to shrink prisons and jails. Building bigger jails to ease prison numbers is the same as rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic: wasting the same dollars in different jurisdictions.

“The U.S. Supreme Court decision is a long-awaited cue for California’s elected officials to stop messing around with superficial changes and start saving lives with real social investment, especially in communities where it makes the biggest difference.”

In the past decade in California spending on prisons has grown from 5 percent to 10 percent of the state’s general fund; 30 years ago, Corrections spending was 2 percent. States like Texas, New York and Michigan have successfully reduced their prison budgets and populations without negative public safety impacts.