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California Moves to Terminate Prison Reduction Order

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California Governor Jerry Brown was nominally the losing party when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Plata a year and half ago, affirming an order of a three-judge court for drastic reductions in California's prison population.  In reality, it was a case of B'rer Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch.  The decision gave Brown the political cover he needed to ram through the Legislature the ill-considered and dangerous prison "realignment" bill.  CJLF has a section of its web site devoted to the damage caused by this law.  My day-of-decision post on the Supreme Court case describes some of the problems in the path to that decision.

Yet California is still not down to the levels ordered by the court.  If we release criminals in ascending order of dangerousness, then the further we go in the process the more innocent blood is spilled per inmate released. 

B'rer Rabbit no longer needs the briar patch, and he wants out.  In a motion filed Monday, Brown asserted that the reductions made so far and the improvements made to prison health care have corrected the constitutional violations.

Because the State has established quality medical and mental health care systems, and has reduced the prison population to levels at which it no longer interferes with the timely delivery of effective health care, the Court must discontinue prospective enforcement of the population reduction order and end federal-court supervision over the State's legislative, fiscal, and policy decisions under basic principles of federalism.
Brown held a press conference Tuesday to announce the filing.  It was covered by Howard Mintz in the San Jose Mercury-News, Sam Stanton, David Siders, and Denny Walsh in the Sacramento Bee, Paige St. John in the Los Angeles Times, and Don Thompson for AP.  Also in the Mercury-News, Steven Harmon has quotes from Brown.

The prisoners' lawyers take the prize for today's most frivolous claim of frivolous argument.  Mintz reports, "Prisoner rights lawyers called the Brown administration's legal arguments frivolous and plan to challenge the request to dissolve the court orders."  Here is what the Supreme Court said:

The State has already made significant progress toward reducing its prison population, including reforms that will result in shifting "thousands" of prisoners to county jails. See Supp. Brief for Appellants at 1. As the State makes further progress, the three-judge court should evaluate whether its order remains appropriate. If significant progress is made toward remedying the underlying constitutional violations, that progress may demonstrate that further population reductions are not necessary or are less urgent than previously believed. Were the State to make this showing, the three-judge court in the exercise of its discretion could consider whether it is appropriate to extend or modify this timeline.

The high court expressly said this motion could be made and considered under precisely the events that have since occurred, but the prison law crowd says its "frivolous."  Maybe this should be the new exemplar of "chutzpah."

The three-judge court's order was wrong the day it was issued, as I have previously explained.  It has become increasingly wrong as the prison population has dropped and health care facilities have been built or expanded.  If the three-judge court does not raise or eliminate the population ceiling, then an expeditious appeal should be taken to the Supreme Court.  I expect there would be a very different outcome this time.

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