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The United States Supreme Court Rule In Brown V Plata That The California Prison System Violates The Constitutional Rights Of Inmates
The Supreme Court has affirmed a federal order telling California to reduce its overflowing prison population, a situation the majority said "falls below the standard of decency." The 5-4 ruling Monday from the justices come in a classic battle over state versus federal authority, focusing on whether U.S. courts can step in and essentially run state prisons when officials have repeatedly violated basic constitutional guarantees afforded inmates. The issue came down to a sharply divided debate between public safety concerns and individual rights, a debate that goes into how the three branches of government should balance competing state interests. From Betsy Combier: "The Justice System is obviously broken, and all we have to do is look at the case of Attorney Richard Fine, put into jail for 18 months without charges, and denied habeas corpus by the Supremes.
High court orders drastic prison population reduction in California
By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
May 23, 2011 12:24 p.m. EDT

Washington (CNN) -- The Supreme Court has affirmed a federal order telling California to reduce its overflowing prison population, a situation the majority said "falls below the standard of decency."

The 5-4 ruling Monday from the justices come in a classic battle over state versus federal authority, focusing on whether U.S. courts can step in and essentially run state prisons when officials have repeatedly violated basic constitutional guarantees afforded inmates.

The issue came down to a sharply divided debate between public safety concerns and individual rights, a debate that goes into how the three branches of government should balance competing state interests.

The swing vote was Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote of the "continuing injury and harm resulting from these serious constitutional violations," including as many as 156,000 people crammed in correctional facilities designed to hold about half that many.

He noted "needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result. Over the whole course of years during which this litigation has been pending, no other remedies have been found to be sufficient."

In dissent, Justice Samuel Alito warned any mass release of inmates to alleviate overcrowding would be "gambling with the safety of the people of California."

The state now has a two-year window to comply, with the clock starting Monday. Officials have not fully explained how their ongoing inmate reduction plan will need to be modified to meet the federal order.

Prison overcrowding is a nationwide problem, but California's dilemma is unique in its massive scope and time frame. There is general agreement that the prison conditions across California are disturbing and long-standing:

Prisoners are stacked three deep in 6- by 9-foot cells designed to hold only one. Open spaces meant to be gymnasiums and clinics have been transformed into crowded encampments with bunks and unsanitary conditions. Suicides occur once every eight days on average.

California has the nation's largest prison system, and the state says it has reduced the prison population to meet overcrowding concerns. But a special federal court panel had ordered 36,000 to 46,000 more inmates released or transferred quickly, about a quarter of the total.

Despite some recent drops, the prison population in the state has increased by about 75 percent in the past two decades.

Two lawsuits -- one filed in 1990, the other in 2001 -- say overcrowding is the core cause of what has become a domino effect of unsafe and unhealthy conditions for those on both sides of the iron bars.

State legislators and corrections officials have admitted the prisons violate the ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" contained in the Constitution, and have organized more than 20 panels and commissions to address the crisis.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who left office in January, had blamed the legislature for not approving more money to build new prisons, or reforming the way defendants are punished and sentenced, particular repeat offenders.

"I don't blame the courts for stepping in to try to solve the overcrowding crisis," he said three years ago. "The fact of the matter is, for decades the state of California hasn't really taken it seriously and hasn't really done something about it."

The special federal court in 2009 had ordered the state to shrink the prison population from the current 200 percent over capacity to a maximum of 137.5 percent, and to accomplish that in two years. The state was given wide latitude to meet the goal, but the court was adamant the state do it without delay and without excuse.

The task was made more difficult by the state budget crisis and a national economic downturn that has created turmoil over funding solutions not just in prisons, but also in education, transportation, and social programs.

Kennedy spent most his 52-page majority opinion affirming the right of federal courts to step into the situation.

"This extensive and ongoing constitutional violation requires a remedy, and a remedy will not be achieved without a reduction in overcrowding," he wrote. "The relief ordered by the three-judge court is required by the Constitution and was authorized by Congress in (federal law). The state shall implement the order without further delay."

The state has already begun to comply; about 9,000 inmates have been released since the 2009 trial stemming from the lawsuits.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan supported Kennedy's conclusions.

Two tough dissents followed the majority's ruling. Reading from the bench, Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling represents "the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history." He said it "takes federal courts wildly beyond their institutional capacity." Justice Clarence Thomas backed him.

In a separate dissent, Alito spoke of the potential impact of the decision.

"The prisoner release ordered in this case is unprecedented, improvident, and contrary" to federal law, he said. "I fear that today's decision, like prior prisoner release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims. I hope that I am wrong. In a few years we will see."

Chief Justice John Roberts added his support to Alito's dissent.

The case is Brown v. Plata ((09-1233).

Supreme Court orders California to release prisoners
Michael Doyle, Sacramento Bee, May 23, 2011

WASHINGTON - A closely divided Supreme Court on Monday cited "serious constitutional violations" in California's overcrowded prisons and ordered the state to abide by aggressive plans to fix the problem.

In a decision closely watched by other states, the court by a 5-4 margin concluded the prison overcrowding violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. Pointedly, the court rejected California's bid for more time and leeway.

"The violations have persisted for years," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "They remain uncorrected."

The court agreed that a prisoner-release plan devised by a three-judge panel is necessary in order to alleviate the overcrowding. The court also upheld the two-year deadline imposed by the three-judge panel.

"For years, the medical and mental health care provided by California's prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners' basic health needs," Kennedy wrote.

Driving the point home, the court's majority made the highly unusual if not unprecedented move of including stark black-and-white photographs of a jam-packed room at Mule Creek State Prison and cages at Salinas Valley State Prison. Conservative dissenters, in turn, warned dire consequences will result.

"Today the court affirms what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history, an order requiring California to release the staggering number of 46,000 convicted felons," Justice Antonin Scalia declared.

Eighteen states -- including Texas, Alaska and South Carolina -- explicitly supported California's bid for more leeway in reducing prison overcrowding. These states worry that they, too, might face court orders to release inmates.

California's 33 state prisons held about 147,000 inmates, at the time of the Supreme Court's oral arguments last November. This is down from a high of some 160,000 previously cited in legal filings. The higher figure amounted to "190 percent of design capacity," officials said.

Last year, a three-judge panel ordered California to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of design capacity within two years. That's the equivalent of about 110,000 inmates.

"California's prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage," the three-judge panel wrote.

Even before the court ruled Monday, California officials began taking steps to cut the overcrowding.

Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed A.B. 109, which shifts to counties the responsibility for incarcerating many low-risk inmates. Up to 30,000 state prison inmates could be transferred to county jails over three years, under the bill; first, however, state officials must agree on a way to pay for it.

"The prison system has been a failure," Brown stated when he signed the bill "Cycling (lower-level) offenders through state prisons wastes money, aggravates crowded conditions, thwarts rehabilitation and impedes local law enforcement supervision."

The overcrowding leads to inhumane and constitutionally impermissible conditions, judges and monitors warn.

One hundred and twelve California prison inmates died unnecessarily due to inadequate medical care in 2008 and 2009, analysts found. Acutely ill patients have been held in "cages, supply closets and laundry rooms" because of overcrowding, investigators found. California prison inmate suicides have been double the national average.

California officials retorted that they deserve more time to act.

Reducing overcrowding doesn't necessarily mean that thousands of inmates will let loose. Alternatives include transferring some to other jurisdictions, diverting nonviolent inmates to jails and reforming parole so that fewer violators are returned to prison.

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
LA Times, May 23, 2011, 8:56 a.m.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to release tens of thousands of its prisoners to relieve overcrowding, saying that "needless suffering and death" had resulted from putting too many inmates into facilities that cannot hold them in decent conditions.

It is one of the largest prison release orders in the nation's history, and it sharply split the high court.

Justices upheld an order from a three-judge panel in California that called for releasing 38,000 to 46,000 prisoners. Since then, the state has transferred about 9,000 state inmates to county jails. As a result, the total prison population is now about 32,000 more than the capacity limit set by the panel.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said California's prisons had "fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements" because of overcrowding. As many as 200 prisoners may live in gymnasium, he said, and as many as 54 prisoners share a single toilet.

Kennedy insisted that the state had no choice but to release more prisoners. The justices, however, agreed that California officials should be given more time to make the needed reductions.

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia called the ruling "staggering" and "absurd."

He said the high court had repeatedly overruled the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for ordering the release of individual prisoners. Now, he said, the majority were ordering the release of "46,000 happy-go-lucky felons." He added that "terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order." Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with him.

In a separate dissent, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the ruling conflicted with a federal law intended to limit the power of federal judges to order a release of prisoners.

State officials and lawyers for inmates differ over just how many prisoners will have to be released. In recent figures, the state said it had about 142,000 inmates behind bars, and the judges calculated the prison population would need to be reduced to about 110,000 to comply with constitutional standards.

Kennedy said the judges in California overseeing the prison-release order should "accord the state considerable latitude to find mechanisms and make plans" that are "consistent with the public safety."

The American Civil Liberties Union said the court had "done the right thing" by addressing the "egregious and extreme overcrowding in California's prisons."

David Fathi, director of the ACLU national prison project, said "reducing the number of people in prison not only would save the state taxpayers half a billion annually, it would lead to the implementation of truly rehabilitative programs that lower recidivism rates and create safer communities."

Meanwhile, the court took no action on another California case in which a conservative group is challenging the state's policy of granting in-state tuition at its colleges and universities to students who are illegal immigrants and have graduated from its high schools.

The justices said they would consider the appeal in a later private conference.

Atty Richard Fine, Imprisoned for Freedom Fighting

I am so very sad to report that one of my personal heroes is sitting in a Los Angeles jail tonight. His crime? Fighting for our rights.

It started in 2000 when Dr. Shirley Moore, a leader in the freedom movement, discovered that Cali judges had been illegally accepting tax payer funds since 1998. These bonuses has been making them higher paid, than even the U.S. Supreme Court Justices.

Dr. Moore did what no other good citizen would dare to do. She filed a law suit against Los Angeles County. But they refused to hear the case. They simply kicked her out of court. When she appealed–a near impossible and VERY ambitious move by any person representing themselves–a judge ruled that she had the right to be heard. She had won the biggest pro per case in the state of California.

Enter Attorney Richard I. Fine. Impressed by her amazing success, he took it upon himself to start a series of law suits against these judges. Meanwhile, Dr. Moore’s case went back to the lower court. Again, she was ignored. The judge just refused to hear the case. Going back to her once allied appellate court, she was then told that the decision was reversed and the case would not be heard.

Now a pair, Fine and Moore refused to give up. A separate but very similar complaint went before a San Diego court–a county where the judges were NOT getting a piece of the money pie. It’s no surprise that the verdict came back GUILTY, and in October 2008, legal documents demanded that the judges STOP getting the extra check, immediately.

But that was several months ago. L.A. County outright refuses to comply with the Court Order.

According to California law, any judge who accepts stolen money, as is the situation here, is not considered ethical enough to make decisions or judgments in ANY court hearing. The way the law is worded, EVERY SINGLE CASE heard in L.A. is eligible to be reopened by someone who is fair and honest.

On February 1st, Attorney Fine sent a letter calling for an investigation. On Feb. 2nd it was filed with the California Supreme Court. On Feb. 11th California Senators decided to grant immunity to these judges. Did you get that? The created a retroactive law to make their THEFT…LEGAL. And on Feb. 18th, it was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger–even tho these documents ADMIT that they STOLE the money!

And just today, March 4, one of my personal heroes and a freedom fighter for all of the people, Attorney Richard Fine, was arrested after refusing to turn over his financial statements, a request that violates his Constitutional rights. But as we all know, they didn’t arrest him for paperwork, they arrested him for fighting the system.

Here’s a man who has made it his life’s purpose to correct misappropriated money–in the state of California–a place that all other states look to as an example. Here’s a man who has already saved tax payers 338 billion dollars thru successful lawsuits. A man who puts his own security on the line for people he will never meet. A man of honesty and integrity; with only the best intentions.

And tonight he sits in a cold California jail cell with hardened criminals. We are told he is being held indefinitely. REFUSED HIS RIGHT TO POST BAIL.

I can’t help but drop a quiet tear or two. How long will they hold him there? How will he be treated? When will he be allowed to have his rights again? Will they threaten his life if he continues to fight? Is this all just a nightmare I’m about to wake up from? Or is this that thing they call America, home of the free?

Go out to protest to Free Fine on Friday March 13, 2009 at the Los Angeles Courthouse located 111 N. Hill St. Los Angeles, CA 90012 @ 11:00 AM, and forward this to all your friends in So Cal.

© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation