The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Prisons in Golden State

Dec 13, 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling about prison overcrowding in California and its inhumane state of inmate health care.

California has the world’s largest prison system per capita. One out of every 100 adults in the state is currently imprisoned. The current prison system holds 160,000 inmates, but is designed to house half that number, cramming inmates into triple-bunked gymnasiums, halls and even clinics.

The Supreme Court had previously ruled that prison overcrowding is not a constitutional violation, as if human beings can be packed like sardines in a can and survive in good health.

In 1995, California prisoners sued the governor and corrections officials saying their lack of health care violated the Eighth Amendment’s “Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause.” The federal court ruled in favor of the prisoners. Since then, no fewer than 70 court decisions have ordered the state of California to provide the mandatory health care.

But California officials have done nothing, and the courts have let them get away with it. In 2005, one of the court orders stated that “…it is an uncontested fact that, on average, an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six to seven days… [due to lack of adequate health care caused by overcrowding].” Other court orders explained that the overcrowding contributed to the spread of infectious diseases, mental illness among prisoners, and suicides. In one instance, a prison cell was so crowded, prison staff did not become aware that a prisoner had died for several hours.

Finally, in 2009 a Federal court ordered California to reduce its prison population by 46,000. The state attorney general at the time – Jerry Brown – refused to carry out the order and appealed it to the Supreme Court. This appeal is now being supported by attorneys general in at least a dozen other states – where the prisons are also monstrously overcrowded.

Meanwhile, conditions in these hell holes continue to deteriorate even further.