Incarceration: Federal Judges Order California to Free Tens of Thousands of Prisoners

A panel of federal judges charged with overseeing the California prison system tentatively ruled Monday that the state must release tens of thousands of inmates from its swollen prison population to reduce overcrowding. The three-judge panel said that no other action would improve conditions so awful that inmates regularly commit suicide or die from lack of proper medical care.
CDCR secretary Matthew Cate responds to the court order (
The state must present a plan to bring inmate numbers down within two to three years, the judges said. They suggested a target of 108,000 to 121,000 inmates from the current California prison population of around 158,000. That would mean that somewhere between 36,000 and 50,000 prisoners would be freed.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Services year end 2007 report, some 34,000 drug offenders were imprisoned in the Golden State. That figure includes some 1,500 marijuana or hashish offenders.

"There are simply too many prisoners for the existing capacity," they wrote in the 10-page order. "Evidence offered at trial was overwhelmingly to the effect that overcrowding is the primary cause of the unconstitutional conditions that have been found to exist in the California prisons."

The San Francisco-based panel said it may hold more hearings before making the decision final. It suggested the state could reduce the prison population by the amount required through changes in parole and other policies without endangering the public safety.

Reducing the size of the nation's largest state prison system "could be achieved through reform measures that would not adversely affect public safety, and might well have a positive effect. This is particularly true considering that California's overcrowded prison system is itself, as the governor, as well as experts who have testified before the Court, have recognized, a public safety hazard," the judges said.

The order came quickly after the judges heard two days of closing arguments last week. The judges said they hoped to force the state to either reach a settlement with attorneys for the inmates who brought the lawsuit or to act on its own to rectify the situation. Previous negotiations had failed to achieve a settlement, leading to a two-week trial in November and December.

"Obviously, the governor and I strongly disagree with the panel's conclusions and our response will be based on how best to protect the public from a court-ordered release of inmates," said CDCR Secretary Michael Cate said in a statement.

But the judges said California largely brought the problem on itself, and that savings from reforms could help pay for reentry services for the expected flood of ex-inmates. "California, like most other states, is in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis," the panel noted. State law enforcement, courts, and rehabilitation services are stretched tightly in the state's $42 billion budget deficit crisis.

The judges pointed out that the CDCR has projected it could save $800 to $900 million a year by sending fewer parolees back to prison on technical violations and by increasing good time for inmates who take classes and vocational programs. "It appears from these figures that the State could easily fully fund all the community rehabilitative and other programs... without expending any funds other than those regularly provided in the prisons budget," the judges wrote.

This is not a done deal yet, but we could be seeing the beginning of the end of California's massive over-incarceration binge. Too bad it's taking an intervention by the federal courts to wean the state of its addiction to mass imprisonment.

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New clemency system can solve prison crisis in any state

A new clemency system is the answer and this can be modified for any state of the country.
Releasing 50 thousand prisoners in a two year plan is not rocket science. There are more than 100 thousand prisoners paroled each year in California according to the Attorney General’s office. Since more than a one third of all California prisoners are nonviolent I believe a sensible new clemency system can handle the task as an alternative to a judge’s order to release inmates with little risk and a savings is in the billions of dollars in incarceration cost.

What makes more sense; three judges ordering the release of “50 thousand” felony prisoners with nowhere to go or 58 county clemency boards releasing 431 NONVIOLENT prisons on average to each county at a rate of 8.5 prisoners per week to each county for the next two years? Each county would receive on average approximately $7 million or $8,000.00 per inmate for rehabilitation services. This is far better than just releasing prisoners with $200.00 "Gate money" under the current parole system.

Even if this works as planed

They will be back over capacity as soon as this program stops, with our current drug laws what is to stop them from filling right back up?

Prohibition is Retarted, must we doing everything the hard way, we already know how to solve this problem.

Fresh Slave Meat

Yes Prohibition is Very retarted so is probation. But since the community ,mostly churches, need new slaves (community service) the slave owners will crack the whip and hunt them down if they try to escape. These people , mostly drug abusers, lives are already so miserable and broken they can hardly cope anyway, then on top off their shatered lives we make them even more miserable. Fines to pay,officers to account to,judges to comply with,lawers fees,cort fees,living with begrudging relatives and hours and hours of community services,on and on and on will it ever end?

kjs420's picture

So does this mean that the law has been broken?

By those sworn to uphold the law? could this be a huge lawsuit just waiting to happen?
Or, will the willful deprivation of constitutional rights by the government be acknowledged as the crime it is, or just change the laws more to allow the same behavior in the future, since the rate and reasons for incarceration are going to continue under the draconian laws, and methods of enforcing those laws that are in place. It may be hard to admit defeat, but the dismal failure of this campaign has to invoke some sort of sensible realization that this approach has gone too far outside the boundaries of what this nation was founded upon. The government is to protect the people, not imprison them with overreaching laws.
Can I have an AMEN.?

AMEN! High Crimes Don't Commit Themselves...

AMEN! High Crimes Don't Commit Themselves... they, not surprisingly, are committed by criminals in high places... namely government... usually with the express permission of their god(s)!

When you live in a country that was raised on the philosophy that 'their ends justifies their means' we are going to have human rights violations.

When gov't and religious leaders 'dictate' rather than 'promote the general welfare' they sully themselves, our republic, and make a massive mockery of the rule of lawful laws.

Truth is treason... in the Kingdom of Lies!

Release all non-violent drug "offenders" -- JUST DO IT

When, oh when, will we WAKE UP and see that our overcrowded prisons are nothing more than THE RESULT OF OUR totally ASININE AND INSANE WAR ON DRUGS !!!

Can we PLEASE LEARN that our attempts to legislate a drug-free society into existence is simply NOT GONNA HAPPEN ??!!!

and, YES, I'm SHOUTING !!!

Drug abuse is a medical and health concern, not a reason to institute a police state. Police wearing masks and using army-style tactics to breaking down doors in the middle of the night? Innocent people terrorized and even killed?? Where is the outrage??? Where is our representation???

WAKE UP AMERICA--these are OUR CHILDREN we're putting in jai!. I'm 62 and old enough to say that!!!



More and more countries are beginning to see the US game of drug war is tearing their economic throats out and are starting to question their involvement in the US game. That's good. And if more federal judges cared about the human beings that have been warehoused in gulags of terror and crime begin to understand that they've mixed sheep and wolves together, maybe more of this stupidity will be straightened out.

We all, myself included, seek a quick end-game solution. I don't think there is one at the moment. What I DO see is that the best battles in our favor are at the State level.

Of the non-Compassionate States to date, which ones have citizen "Prop" laws in place? Target those first. We must give the People of the Land a voice and this seems to be the only way that positive outcome is derived.

Forget the Beltway. They don't know and they don't care! Instead of changing the Capital, change all the surrounding States first. Realistically, Prohib. II ended that way, albiet, through a different method but with the same actions.

We tell Them to "learn from the past." We need to, also. FDR didn't just sign a statement that Alcohol Prohibition was ended. Why would we expect Obama to do it? Attack Washington in the same manner, except for using Amendments, use Propositions and Questions, allowed by each State's Constitution.

How then will the Prohibs say "You Can't" when all 50 States tell their people, "Yes You Can!"? The States themselves are the "front lines," not Washington! Get involved! Change your State to a Green Compassionate State. First things first!

they better let the potheads

they better let the potheads out first!

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