On May 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court affirmed a lower federal three-judge court’s order that California reduce its inmate populate by 33,000. The population-reduction order stemmed from two lawsuits, Coleman and Plata, which were both ultimately consolidated into one lawsuit under Plata. The plaintiffs’ allegation under Plata was that the state was not providing adequate and timely mental and medical care to inmates, in gross violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The state conceded that it was not providing adequate and timely mental and medical care, and the Court agreed, imposing a number of mandates that the State had to fulfill in order to demonstrate that it was beginning to provide timely and adequate care to the inmates.
There is difficulty in the state’s ability to meet the Plata requirements, and the most glaring one is the gross overpopulation of the state’s prisons. At this point, the court considers state prisons to be at about 185 percent of capacity, with a November target of 167 percent. While funding has yet to be approved for Assembly Bill 109, the Governor’s signing of the bill constitutes a public gesture that the state is willing to engage in a realignment process to ease the prison overcrowding and expedite treatment of inmates’ medical and mental health needs. If implemented, AB 109 will help California meet the court’s required inmate population reductions. It also will provide much-needed resources to counties to treat lower-level offenders locally to prevent recidivism and encourage rehabilitation.