Piece by piece, judges over 12 years have taken control of vast segments of California’s prison system, says the Sacramento Bee. They have ordered fixes for failures that have already cost taxpayers more than $1 billion and will cost nearly $8 billion more over the next five years. The gradual takeover has come in eight class-action cases won by inmates rights lawyers. The cases are monitored by four special masters and a receiver who, along with plaintiffs’ attorneys, have generated fees and costs totaling another $77.9 million in state expenditures.
A dozen years after federal Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that correctional officials were operating Pelican Bay State Prison in a cruel and unusual fashion, the courts have since found that constitutional violations are rampant in the way California has been locking up its criminals. Medical, mental health and dental care, juvenile incarceration practices, access. and treatment of physically and developmentally disabled inmates, due-process rights for parolees — it’s all a wreck, the courts have found, and now the bill is coming due. Compliance costs for this fiscal year have nearly quadrupled from 2005-06, to $376 million. Another $325.7 million in court-ordered costs are on tap for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for next year.