Californians beware. Legions of prisoners may be prematurely released from your state’s prison system and coming to a city near you. Or will they? Such a sinister warning amounts to no more than rhetoric, said the Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata, which affirmed a three-judge district court’s order that California reduce its prison population to 137.5% of design capacity within two years. The Court’s decision-by a bare majority-quickly drew controversy. The order could result in the release of approximately forty thousand prisoners. More remarkable is that this remedy is not directly targeted at the two classes of plaintiffs-mentally and medically ill prisoners of California who received constitutionally insufficient care-but rather the entire state prison system. Nevertheless, the Court ultimately reached the correct decision. It had a duty to remedy the constitutional violations, and no other remedy had been or could be successful until overcrowding receded.
Neil Stockbridge, An Eighth Amendment State of Emergency – Prisoner Reduction Order as a Last Resort in Brown v. Plata, 65 SMU L. Rev. 229 (2012)