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California Prison Case Reaches U.S. Supreme Court

Publication Date: 
November 28, 2010
San Jose Mercury news
Howard Mintz

Professor Joan Petersilia is quoted on the impact of the Supreme Court's decision to take a case regarding California's crowded prison system. The story, filed by the San Jose Mercury News, can be found here:

For decades, California's Legislature, governors and a parade of experts in managing state prisons have been unable to fix the state's overgrown, bloated prison system. Now the U.S. Supreme Court must decide whether three federal judges have the power to do the fixing for them.

In arguments set for Tuesday, the nation's high court will review a federal court's unprecedented ruling last year that required the state to shed nearly 40,000 inmates from its 33 prisons to relieve an overcrowding problem deemed so severe that it violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.


"The implications are huge not just for California, but for every state in the nation," said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford University law professor and expert on prison issues. "California in many ways gets seen as the big kahuna, and kind of the worst in terms of prison crowding. But there are other states that are pretty close."


But Jonathan Simon, a UC Berkeley law professor following the case closely, said the justices may still be reluctant to tamper with the overall factual findings of the three-judge panel, although they may decide the courts need to give the state "more leeway" to comply with the orders. And, Stanford's Petersilia added, the order has already served a purpose, given the decline in inmate population in recent years.

"Without the court order, we wouldn't have gotten here," she said. "They weren't getting it done to the extent they got it done the last two years."