Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

More Plata Commentary: Experts Edition

with 2 comments

From folks who know what they’re talking about:

  • Jonathan Simon, Berkeley professor and criminal-justice scholar: “this is the first decision to move beyond evaluating prison conditions, to place mass incarceration itself on trial.” And on the Scalia dissent: “In Scalia’s universe, a court could order the release of a prisoner from Auschwitz, but not the closing of Auschwitz. This is a coherent vision of the Constitution, but one that renders the Constitution largely irrelevant to modern society.”
  • Doug Berman, Ohio State professor and expert on criminal sentencing: “anyone who does not like the idea of federal courts ordering a state to release prisoners really should be complaining about the fact that [a Republican] Congress in 1996 clearly contemplated and clearly authorized federal courts to enter such an order through the enactment of the PLRA.”
  • More Doug Berman [this is from the comments section to the above link]: “I continue to find it hard to contemplate that a responsible state could/would let things get so bad in their prisons so as to have made such a factual record to justify the need for the federal court involvement. It is truly an embarrassment to CA, and I commen[d] the majority of the Court for recognizing that judges can and must sometimes say enough is enough.”
  • Jeanne Woodford, former San Quentin warden (paraphrased by LA Times columnist Steve Lopez): “Woodford told me California has run an aggressive ‘catch and release program,’ in which we send tens of thousands of parolees back to state prison each year for violations, many of them minor, that could be handled more cheaply and easily at the county level. In her opinion, we incarcerate “many more prisoners than is necessary for the safety of the public.”
  • Inimai Chettiar, policy counsel, ACLU: “Foremost, reducing prison overcrowding will actually lead to less crime and safer neighborhoods. Our extremist sentencing policies have bloated our prisons so severely that not only are they unsafe, unhygienic, and unconstitutional, but also excessively costly and actually a detriment to public safety.”

Also, a programming note: There’s, predictably, been a flood of commentary on Monday’s Supreme Court decision ordering California to bring its prison overcrowding crisis under control. Also predictably, much of that commentary is starting to get repetitive or otherwise non-illuminating, so I won’t attempt to keep a comprehensive archive going (not that such an archive wouldn’t be useful for, well, archival purposes — if I weren’t super-busy this week with other projects, I might take it on, but alas, SCOTUS doesn’t consult my schedule when timing the announcement of its decisions!). But of course, I will certainly keep linking selectively to those more provocative or informative responses, such as those listed above, that I believe to be worth your reading time. Of course, please add further suggestions in comments if you think I’ve missed something!


2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this group of experts, but I don’t think Woodford matches up to anyone else in the group. In my opinion her statements here, and almost everywhere else are very simplistic, and less than enlightening. I think she has been labeled some kind of expert simply because she was once appointed warden, rose up thru CDC, then changed her position, and now gets paid for that position too. But on the merits of her capacity for analysis? Not really. Sorry, but someone has to say it.

    It’s unfortunate that no (or very few) former prisoners, many of whom can articulate analysis of Plata and other issues, are seldom considered worthy of media consultation – at least not nearly enough as a former warden. One has to question why, and whether or how that myopia of the media in turn plays a role in the myopia of our prison policies.


    May 25, 2011 at 7:36 am

  2. Just got through reading Woodford’s comments about the Plata decision in various media outlets.

    It is shocking that Woodford has never really comes out in a very critical way about the conditions of confinement in California. With the Plata decision, she had the media opportunity, but her commentary was not strong, and less than critical about CDCR, given her decades of experience. (I note the tweet on this blog, that Woodford says “CDCR is an unacceptable working environment for everyone” ). No, Ms. Woodford: CDCR is abhorrent and cruel for prisoners especially. You know this from your oversight of them.

    The fact that Ms. Woodford downplays what prisoners go through is greatly insulting not only to the hundreds of thousands who have been locked up in California, but also to all California taxpayers.


    May 29, 2011 at 9:31 am

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