Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘schwarzenegger

California Lifers, Though Eligible for Parole, Are More Likely to Die in Prison

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That’s the conclusion that KALW reporter Nancy Mullane found when she ran the numbers. Kudos to Mullane for her dogged pursuit of this data, employing California’s Public Records Act. I thought I’d provide some additional context, mainly in the form of rounding up some links.

Caveat before I go on: It’s essential to keep in mind, when reading about criminal justice issues, that every state has different laws, policies, and terminology. This post is mainly about California, and in particular, about California prisoners serving life terms with the possibility of parole — which is a subset of the California prison population, mainly convicted of murder. For non-homicide crimes, California offenders are typically sentenced to determinate terms of a fixed number of years. They don’t have to go before the parole board because they’re automatically released, or “paroled,” when their term ends. The terminology is confusing, because the word “parole” is used to describe the release of both subsets of prisoners.

The fact is this: Because of the tough-on-crime turn of the 1980s and ’90s, many prisoners who were initially sentenced to life with the possibility of parole are now effectively serving LWOP or “death-in-prison” terms. It simply became a political near-impossibility to rubber-stamp the release of a convicted murderer. This bait-and-switch has happened in states across the country, though with different legal and administrative underpinnings in each state. In Virginia, parole-eligible inmates claim that the parole board summarily denies parole in every case. In Michigan, it was changes to the composition of the parole board that effectively made parole harder to earn.

In California, the change came in 1988. That year, Golden State voters transferred to the governor the final say on all parole decisions for murderers serving life terms. Read the rest of this entry »

California Readers: Help End Shackling of Pregnant Women

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will soon be presented with AB 1900, which would extend California’s current prohibition on shackling inmates during labor to also limit the use of restraints on pregnant women while they are being transferred, except in cases of a clear security or flight risk. The bill has the support of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among a host of other groups. The ACLU of Northern California’s Reproductive Justice Project has a form email you can send here urging Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign the bill into law.

Ninth Circuit to California: Yes, You’re Still in Federal Receivership

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Triple bunks at California State Prison, Los Angeles, in 2006 (photo courtesy CDCR). Severe overcrowding has impeded California's prisons from meeting constitutional health care standards

Health care in California’s prison system, which has been under the control of a federal court-appointed receiver since 2006, will remain that way thanks to a Ninth Circuit ruling handed down last Friday. In the latest of many rulings in the ongoing Plata v. Schwarzenegger class action lawsuit, a three-judge panel rejected the Schwarzenegger administration’s motion to terminate the federal receivership. California is seeking to get its prison system out of federal oversight largely because of budget woes: receiver J. Clark Kelso has ordered the construction of new prison hospitals to bring CDCR health care facilities up to constitutional standards, but the Golden State is already looking at an $20 billion deficit through June 2011. However, in declining to terminate the receivership, the Ninth Circuit panel of judges Schroeder, Canby, and Hawkins (all Democratic appointees) noted that California did not challenge the receiver’s appointment at the time, and has presented no evidence that it can bring its prisons up to constitutional standards in the absence of a federal receiver.

The precise legal questions at issue in this most recent ruling were, first, whether U.S. district court judge Thelton Henderson had the authority to appoint a receiver to begin with, and second, whether the receiver has the authority to order construction projects. I’ll explain the panel’s reasoning on both of those issues after the jump. For more background on the ongoing prison litigation over California’s prisons, see this earlier post.

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