On this dayNov 30, 2010

California Defends Prison Conditions Ruled Inhumane by Federal Court

On November 30, 2010, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Brown v. Plata, a case challenging overcrowded and dangerous prison conditions in California. Officials arguing for the state urged the Court to overturn a lower federal court’s decision that conditions were so dire in the state prisons that large numbers of prisoners had to be released to improve safety and meet constitutional requirements.

On May 23, 2011, the Court decided against state officials and upheld the lower court order, requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners to relieve serious overcrowding and remedy grossly inadequate medical and mental health care. The Court found that the medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons constituted “cruel and unusual punishment.” Disturbed by the plentiful examples of filthy conditions, inadequate safety measures, unavailable medical care, and more led the Court to find these conditions were “incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.” Even with the ordered reduction in prison population, implemented over two years, California’s estimated prison population would still be more than 30 percent over capacity.

Brown v. Plata reached the U.S. Supreme Court a decade after the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, California, filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Marciano Plata and others incarcerated in California, alleging that the state’s prisons violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” After years of litigation, the Supreme Court’s decision required the state to begin working to meaningfully reduce in California’s prison population.

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