Courtney O'Brien

In early August, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered California to reduce its prison population by 40,000 inmates in the next two years. This is the largest federally mandated state prison reduction order ever forced over the objection of state officials. This blatant usurpation of states’ rights is not only unconstitutional, but dangerous to the public safety of Californians.

Senator John J. Benoit (R-CA), Vice-Chair of the California State Senate Public Safety Committee, responded to the order: “As a 31 year law enforcement veteran, I can say from experience that unleashing tens of thousands of prisoners into our communities is a horrible way to accomplish anything except higher crime rates,” stated Senator Benoit. “This ruling by activist federal judges is an egregious and dangerous violation of states’ rights that I believe the Supreme Court will overturn.”

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The federal court claims authority under the Prison Litigation Reform Act which was enacted by Congress in 1996 as a means to protect the states from frivolous prisoner lawsuits. Advocates of both federalism and judicial restraint supported the act because it would hinder federal intervention into an already overburdened state corrections system. The original act was never intended to have such broad interpretation to allow it to be used in such a way.

The federal order demands the release of mass numbers of prisoners, and recommends policy in which to “safely” do so. Policy such as “good time credits” which would release prisoners early based on credit obtained by participating in rehabilitative, education, or work programs. Other recommendations included shortening the length and limiting the use of parole, and reducing the arrest of technical parole violators. Similar proposals have been introduced in the past by Gov. Schwarzenegger, as well as the transferring of illegal immigrant inmates to federal custody, and the construction of more prisons .The federal court’s ruling and usurpation of states’ rights regarding California’s corrections system sets a dangerous precedent.

Courtney O'Brien

Courtney O'Brien is the Legislative Assistant for the Public Safety and Elections Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.