The Supreme Court ruled Monday in Brown v. Plata that California's overcrowded prisons violate the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and ordered the release of 30,000 prisoners. The 5-4 decision was sharply divided. Justice Kennedy, leading for the Majority, described “telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets,” used to house suicidal inmates. Justice Scalia, offering a vigorous dissent, called the prisoners who will eventually be released “just 46,000 happy-go-lucky felons fortunate enough to be selected.”
Justice Alito, in a separate dissent, shared this fear:
“I fear that today’s decision, like prior prisoner release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims. I hope that I am wrong. In a few years, we will see.”
Daniel Nagin and Richard Berk are experts on imprisonment and crime. Nagin is a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon, and the co-author of an article called: “Imprisonment and Crime: Can Both Be Reduced?” Berk is in the Departments of Statistics and Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania - but back in the 1990's Berk was at UCLA, sifting the data on California's booming prison population.