Today, the Supreme Court decided, 5-4, to uphold the three-judge panel decision in Plata v. Schwarzenegger (now Brown v. Plata). Justice Kennedy wrote the Opinion of the Court, which is very sensitive to the inmates’ plight, and orders the state, and CDCR, to reduce prison population by a considerable percentage (about 40,000 inmates).
A detailed analysis of the decision will follow later tonight, but for now, here are some important implications:
The majority decision gives the state a lot of leeway in the timeline of achieving the reduction. Justice Kennedy is willing to cut the state significant slack in timely reduction if there is evidence to show that efforts to decrowd are well under way. Contrary to the alarmist tone in Justice Alito’s dissent, mass early releases will not happen tomorrow.
The state has considerable discretion not just in when, but also in how, the reduction is to be achieved. Much to my dismay, Justice Kennedy explicitly offers two decrowding methods that I consider shortsighted and malignant: More prison construction (already happening) and more out of state incarceration (already happening). My hope is that the state will not make the huge mistake of relying on incarceration-increasing methods for a short-term reduction which will come back to bite us in a few years with an increased prison population, and will instead rely on benign methods: Sentencing reform, good credits, and parole reform.