LA Times — It may come as a disappointment to Gov. Jerry Brown — but it certainly should not come as a surprise — that a panel of federal judges rejected his request that they return control of California's still-overcrowded prison system to the state. The network of 33 state prisons continues to hold more than 9,000 inmates beyond the court's mandated cap, and Brown's administration has not presented a realistic plan to eliminate that excess, even though the court has extended the deadline for compliance from June 30 to the end of the year.
Brown is vowing to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and more power to him. He argues that medical and mental health care provided in California's prisons, recently so abysmal as to be deemed cruel and unusual punishment, is now the nation's best, and perhaps he is right. But even so, the courts can be expected to retain jurisdiction until the target inmate population is reached, and until the justices are assured that new standards of care in the prisons are a permanent part of the institutional culture and not merely a short break after decades of unconscionable inmate treatment.
It's important to remember the level to which California's prisons had sunk, and at which they remained just a few years ago. In the 2011 Brown vs. Plata opinion, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy detailed the harrowing conditions, including holding suicidal inmates for hours in cages without toilets, forcing them to stand in pools of their own urine. Why? Waits for needed mental health care lasted as long as a year, and in the meantime there was no place else to put at-risk prisoners. Suicide rates were 80% higher than in prisons in other states. Sick inmates died of readily treatable illnesses. Contracting a disease meant in some cases being rounded up into a cell of 50 other sick inmates.
Prisons should not coddle prisoners or provide them with gold-plated treatment, but neither should they treat inmates so poorly that they are essentially being physically tortured or left to die because of neglect. continue reading...