Columbia Law School Expert Lauds Supreme Court Decision on California Prison Overcrowding

Mass Incarceration Clinic Director Brett Dignam Says Court Has Opened a ?Door of Hope?

Public Affairs, 212-854-2650

New York, May 24, 2011—Professor Brett Dignam, director of the Challenging the Consequences of Mass Incarceration Clinic at Columbia Law School, offered this reaction to Monday’s Supreme Court decision that ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding by more than 30,000 inmates.

The 5-4 decision ruled that conditions in California prisons have reached the point where they violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

“The Supreme Court has opened a door of hope to thousands who suffer deplorable conditions threatening their physical and psychological health in California’s severely overcrowded prisons.”

“After combing the extensive factual record that documents two decades of horrifying events, including preventable and frequent death, the Court carefully considered the potential negative effects on public safety of continuing to house prisoners in these squalid conditions.”

“Confirming a three-judge appellate panel, the opinion discusses the danger that extends not only to correctional staff who work in those prisons but also to the public when prisoners—95 percent of whom will eventually be released) are returned to society.”

“Citing higher recidivism rates that correlate with such conditions and the overwhelming budgetary pressures created by California’s fiscal crisis, the Court concluded that the unconstitutional conditions conceded by the State could only be addressed by reducing the overcrowding that multiple experts concluded was the primary cause of those conditions.”

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