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Unconstitutional Conditions in California Prisons Could Mean Mass Release

The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, which may allay some of the worries of those arrested and charged with criminal offenses. While prison may be an unpleasant experience, the U.S. Constitution prohibits it from being deadly… in theory.

A case now plaguing California’s legislature and administration involves the constitutionality of the treatment of convicted criminals in one of the central pieces of the nation’s criminal corrections system – prisons.

According to the Los Angeles Times, prison crowding in California has reached a crisis point: various lawsuits are currently pending involving medical care, dental care, mental health treatment and disability access for inmates, and federal judges have recently declared the current state of prisons to be unconstitutional.

In an effort to improve the quality of healthcare in the prisons of the Golden State, federal judges have appointed a receiver to act in the interest of the state’s inmates. The receiver, according to sources, has promised to get the needed funding for the necessary prison reforms – even if the state legislature won’t pass the necessary bill.

And it seems that may be the case. Apparently, a bill that would have allocated billions of dollars for improvements in hospital facilities was twice blocked by Senate Republicans.

Republicans have also reportedly rejected a settlement of the federal court case concerning the constitutionality of California prisons. The settlement called for the release of thousands of nonviolent offenders to county jails and rehabilitation facilities.

But, argued Republicans, the settlement would be too expensive and should include revisions to the current plan for prison construction. Such revisions, Senate Republicans allegedly feel, would give the legislature leeway to address the prison crowding crisis on their own terms, rather than in a forced situation triggered by a lawsuit.

The root of the problems, though, may not be in lawmakers’ visions for the criminal corrections systems, but in the cost of the needed reforms. California currently faces a several-billion-dollar budget deficit, and the proposed reforms would evidently cost another seven billion.

Figuring out where the needed money might come from, then, could be the biggest challenge state lawmakers face. And they could face it sooner, rather than later. According to sources, the prisons’ receiver has promised to seize the funds necessary to improve prison conditions, regardless of what lawmakers ultimately decide.

If that comes to pass, the state’s budget deficit will swell even more.

And if the money isn’t seized for necessary improvements, federal judges could order a mass release of prisoners, since current prison conditions violate the Constitution.

Criminal defense is a complicated area of the law, as the current situation in California illustrates. To learn more about your criminal rights wherever you live in the country, you can speak with a criminal defense lawyer.

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