Prisons Offer Lessons For Courts Rationing

There are lessons for civil justice advocates in the ongoing soap opera over California’s prison overcrowding. One is that the state can and will shift its responsibilities to counties, in this case moving inmates to county jails. Another is that the “miracle” of Gov. Brown’s “balanced budget” hinges on many such moves to effectively de-fund agencies. And yet another is that it may take years and years, but the chickens do come home to roost.
The news is that a U.S. Supreme Court decision pretty much gives the state a late December deadline for meeting the terms of a 2009 ruling by a  special three-judge panel. That panel said that the state’s 33 prisons were too overcrowded to provide prisoners adequate medical and mental health care. The governor has already met much of the court’s demand from what he calls a “realignment program,” which simply shifted low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails.
It’s unclear what, exactly, the state will do. But it’s worth noting that they have already shifted many “low-level” non-violent inmates to the counties. That means those left in prisons are those that did not make the cut for county jails. And yet another lesson for the civil courts, where cutbacks have also impacted the ability of the disabled to attain public services, that the state sometimes responds only when ordered to respond.
As usual, Howard Mintz (@hmintz)at the Mercury News newspaper makes a complex situation easy to understand. Read his article here. 
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