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Entries in Inmates (2)

Monday
May232011

Supreme Court Orders California to Slash Prison Population

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A bitterly divided Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling that California must reduce its prison population by at least 30,000 to alleviate overcrowding.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the four liberal members of the court, acknowledged that the order is "unprecedented" in its "sweep and extent" but said that the crowded conditions amounted to violations of prisoners' constitutional rights against cruel and unusual treatment and must be remedied.

Kennedy noted that at the time of the court order, California's correctional facilities held 156,000 inmates, nearly double the number they were designed to hold.

"The medical and mental health care provided by California's prison falls below the standard of decency," Kennedy wrote. "This extensive and ongoing constitutional violation requires a remedy, and a remedy will not be achieved without a reduction in overcrowding."

Kennedy said the order gives the State of California the power to choose how to reduce its prison population, but said the progress should be monitored by the three-judge panel that issued the original order.

"Absent compliance through new construction, out-of-state transfers or other means...the state will be required to release some number of prisoners before their full sentences have been served," he said.

The majority acknowledged that if the state is able to "reveal targeted and effective remedies" that will end the constitutional violations it may not have to significantly decrease the general prison population.

Kennedy said that the state could ask for an extension of the original two-year deadline to five years, but that the state should begin to devise a system to select prisoners "least likely to jeopardize public safety."

The controversy around California's overcrowded prisons arose in 2009 when a panel of three federal judges ruled that conditions violated prisoners' constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment. The panel based its decision on the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) passed by Congress in 1996, which allows federal courts, in certain circumstances, or order caps on prison populations.

California appealed the decision to the Supreme Court arguing that the three-judge panel had no jurisdiction to rule on the issue and that it didn't give California a reasonable amount of time to comply with previous court orders directed at remedying the problem.

Carter G. Phillips, an attorney representing California, called the order "extraordinary and unprecedented" and said that it would force the state to release thousands of prisoners. He said that the state was making progress in improving prison conditions on its own and that the federal court should not interfere with the state's progress.

The case stems from two separate lawsuits that had been winding their way through California courts for years, challenging the health care available in the prison system. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Apr262011

Should Cash-Strapped States Compensate Exonerated Felons?

Dick Luria/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- One year after DNA evidence exonerated Alan Northrop, who had served 17 years in prison for a rape and kidnapping he didn't commit, he's still waiting for the state of Washington to compensate him for its mistake.

"It's really great being out, but I'm struggling too," Northrop said in an interview. The 46-year-old father of three left prison with little money, no job and stunted emotional and technical skills. And even though he's found work at a metal fabrication shop, he says he's barely making ends meet.

"They just let you go and that's that. No apology. No nothing," he said. "They need to make it right. It doesn't matter what the state deficit is. These are innocent lives that have had a lot of years taken away and they need to make it right so we can get going again."

Northrop's case is among a skyrocketing number of wrongful convictions of the innocent discovered over the past decade with the evolution of reliable DNA testing technology, experts say.

Now, many states, which face looming budget deficits and competing fiscal priorities, are grappling with how to respond to the trend.

Between 1989 and 1999, there were 66 exonerations by DNA evidence alone, according to figures compiled by the National Innocence Project, a legal advocacy group. In the decade since, there have been 203 more.

Twenty-three states, including Washington, don't offer any financial compensation for the wrongfully incarcerated. In the 27 states that do, the reparations vary widely.

Texas, which has the most thorough compensation program in the country, awards $80,000 for each year of wrongful incarceration, plus $25,000 per year spent on parole or as a registered sex offender. The state also provides an annuity and support services.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire offers a maximum $20,000 for the entirety of a wrongful conviction. Utah awards the monetary equivalent of the average annual salary of the state's non-agricultural worker. And Montana only provides the wrongfully incarcerated with educational aid.

President George W. Bush signed into law in 2004 a requirement that wrongfully convicted federal inmates should receive up to $50,000 per year spent behind bars, or $100,000 per year if the time was spent on death row.

Advocates for the exonerated want those figures to be a minimum level of compensation in states nationwide.

A 1996 study by the Ohio State University Criminal Justice Research Center estimated that about 10,000 people in the United States are wrongfully convicted of serious crimes every year, largely because of eyewitness misidentification.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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