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Judges Weighing Prison Cap Could Tackle Sentence Reform, Some Say

Publication Date: 
July 17, 2007
Daily Journal
Linda Rapattoni

The Daily Journal quotes Executive Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center and Lecturer in Law Kara P. Dansky in a story about the possibility of a panel of judges initiating sentencing reform in California's prisons:

Kara Dansky, executive director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, who has studied sentencing commissions in other states, said a prison release order could be any order that has the purpose or effect of reducing the prison population.

"So it's bigger than just imposing a population cap," she said. "It gives judges the flexibility to require states to take action."

But revising sentencing laws may be seen by some to exceed the judiciary's authority, she said.

One could argue that changing the state's sentencing laws would be intrusive and not allowed under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, she said. It also could be argued that changing sentencing laws would violate the separation of powers doctrine because it would override the Penal Code, she said.

Nevertheless, the act provides circumstances in which federal courts can order officials to violate the state law, Dansky said.

"It's very complicated," she said. "It's difficult because there's not a lot of case law on this. "When we look at all these questions, the court is required to give substantial weight to any impact on public safety or the criminal justice system."