The United States Supreme Court made one of its most controversial decisions in recent memory in May 2011. Brown v. Plata involved a class action by inmates in California who alleged that their Eighth Amendment rights had been violated because overcrowding in the State’s prisons prevented access to adequate physical and mental health care. After California failed to comply with previous orders to remedy those conditions, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ordered the State to reduce its prison population by forty-six thousand inmates. Forced to either affirm the release order and jeopardize public safety or reverse the order and allow continued violation of prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights, the Supreme Court chose the former. Understandably, many questioned the wisdom of both the decision and the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the statute that required it. As a result, the need for prison reform and alternatives to mass incarceration are clearer than ever.
Kyle T. Sullivan,
To Free or Not to Free: Rethinking Release Orders under the Prison Litigation Reform Act after Brown v. Plata,
B.C.J.L. & Soc. Just.