The California prison system today may be slapped with an inmate population cap under a hardly used federal legal process that has been on the books for 11 years, reports the Sacramento Bee. Youngstown, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., had caps imposed by the three-judge federal panels under the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act that resulted in early release orders of few hundred inmates each. In California, the figure is likely to reach into the tens of thousands — if a court agrees with population figures cited by inmate rights lawyers who brought the action.
Prison litigators from across the U.S. are awaiting the ruling from U.S. District Court in Sacramento, where the plaintiffs will argue that the jampacked conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are contributing to what federal judges have determined to be the unconstitutional provision of prison medical care and mental health treatment to inmates. “California presents the question of what happens when the political system of a state simply ignores a grotesque and obvious prison overcrowding situation for years and years and years,” said John Boston of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the New York City Legal Aid Society. U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento and Thelton Henderson of San Francisco, who are presiding over separate cases involving mental health and health care, will conduct a joint hearing today. Their ruling on creating a three-judge court could come from the bench.