Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Adventures in Orwellian Doublespeak, California Prisons Edition

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Quick background: Corrections officials distinguish between three ways of measuring prison capacity: “design capacity,” “operable capacity,” and “safe and reasonable capacity.” You might think, from the titles, that the final measure would be the least crowded, but you’d be wrong…

“Maximum ‘safe and reasonable’ capacity” does not take into account “the need for humane conditions” incorporated into design capacity, or the need for programming space incorporated into both design and operable capacity. More important …, that classification does not take into account the space or facilities required to provide medical or mental health care.

(Coleman/Plata Opinion and Order, Aug. 4, 2009, PDF p. 42)

Just for those keeping score at home, the California Department of Corrections has determined that its prisons have a “safe and reasonable capacity” of 179% of “design capacity” (PDF p. 42). In recent years the prisons have held as much as 200% of design capacity at their peak, a figure brought down to about 196% by “shipping several thousand prisoners to Mississippi and other contract states” (PDF p. 42). In 2006, Gov. Schwarzenegger issued an Emergency Declaration stating that the state’s prisons had become places ” ‘of extreme peril’ that threaten ‘the health and safety of the men and women who work inside [severely overcrowded] prisons and the inmates housed in them'” (PDF p. 7). So, that’s at 200% of design capacity. But somehow if we got down to 179%, that would be “safe and reasonable.”

Written by sara

April 1, 2010 at 7:58 pm

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