The California prison system and the impact of the Supreme Court

INPUT Analyst Evan Halperin reports.

In a five-to-four vote last month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the California prison system violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The landmark case had five justices: Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan voted to force the California Department of Corrections to reduce the prison system population by 30,000 over the next two years. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion along with justices Thomas, Alito and Roberts.

Though this case was brought to the Supreme Court in November 2010 and concluded on May 23, 2011, a case was initially brought against the state of California in 1990. A lower court and a three-judge court ruled that reductions must be made in the prison population in order to properly care for prisoners with serious mental illness. Despite previous rulings and requests, no changes occurred in the prison system. The populations of many prisons includes individuals who were incarcerated due to the “three-strike” rule in California, which requires any individual to be sentenced to life following a third felony arrest, even if it is a nonviolent crime.

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