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California’s Prison Overcrowding Given Another Reprieve

Posted by Seth Chazin | Feb 19, 2014 | 2 Comments

The prison overcrowding case Plata/Coleman v. Brown made way for a time extension given to the State of California to reduce inmate population. A three–judge panel consisting of 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt of San Francisco, Eastern District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento, and Northern District Judge Thelton Henderson of Oakland delivered a new ruling that granted the State of California 2 years to meet the 137% reduction of the prison population, with a new deadline in February 2016.

The judges determined, in order for California to meet 2016 deadline, immediate deadlines would need to be in order to gradually reduce the population by the deadline. Failure to abide by these conditions will result in the release of inmates. For example, the deadlines suggested for gradual reduction are: by June 30, 2014 the prisons must reduce its population by 1%, and an additional 1.5% in February of 2015.

In order for these reductions, to take place the panel of judges listed specific steps that the State must take instantly to begin the drastic decrease. The steps are directed towards non-violent 2nd strikers and Parolees.

Non-violent offenders with a 2nd strike will have the opportunity for their maximum good time credits to be expanded by 33%; good time credits will be rewarded for “milestones” such as completion of rehabilitation programs. There will also be a new parole process to identify those non-violent 2nd strikers who have already served half of their sentence. The parole system will begin a new parole process for prisoners who are 60 years of age or older and for those who have served at least 25 years of their sentence. The Board of Parole hearings will determine the eligibility for each individual. The process of releasing inmates who have been granted parole but have a later parole date will expedite the reduction of the prison population.

This response by the three-judge panel appears to be woefully inadequate to seriously address California's prison overcrowding debacle. More drastic action is clearly required in order to get the state of California to make a real dent in the largest prisoner population in the US. The state can't be allowed to lower the prison population at a snail's pace.

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About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


Luke Ciciliano Reply

Posted Feb 20, 2014 at 08:29:30

Thanks Seth. It’s an interesting situation. My home state is running into similar issues. Do you see some of this problem correcting itself due to changes in state and federal policies regarding drug crimes?

Seth Chazin Reply

Posted Feb 24, 2014 at 15:37:35

Unfortunately I don’t think this will take care of itself. This issue has actually been raised and debated for many years, through several governor’s terms yet none of them was willing to voluntarily reduce the prison population. A lot has to do with our sentencing laws and the mentality of the need for “retribution” against those who commit crimes. We need a change in the mindset of the criminal justice system and the prosecution of those who violate the law.

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