Governing Through Crime recently noted that photographs more than legalese may have swayed the opinion of Justice Breyer during December’s SCOTUS discussion of Schwarzenegger vs. Plata.


Breyer saw the photos in an amicus brief submitted by a coalition of religious group (PDF) in support of the plaintiff:

“It’s a big record. What I did was I – it refers to on-line evidence – I went and looked at the pictures, and the pictures are pretty horrendous to me. And I would say Page 10 of the religious group’s brief (PDF), for example, shows you one of them. And what [the religious groups] are saying is obvious. Just look at it. In conditions such as these, you cannot have mental health facilities that will stop people from killing themselves, and you cannot have medical facilities that will stop staph and tubercular infection.”

Schwarzenegger v. Plata is a federal class-action suit challenging health care conditions in the California prisons. In 2009, a California-based three-judge federal court found that massive overcrowding in the state’s prisons contributed to untreated mental illness, suicides and other preventable deaths of inmates. The overcrowding, the judges ruled, violated the Eighth Amendment rights of prisoners to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.

The three judge panel ordered the release of 35,000 – 45,000 prisoners to ease overcrowding and restore constitutional rights. Schwarzenegger and the CDCr authroities immediately appealed. SCOTUS are currently deciding if the three judge panel was within jurisdiction to order the mass release of prisoners; AND if overcrowding does directly cause poor medical and mental health-care.

Commentators have noted the apparent empathy of many Justices. It is common knowledge that California’s prison policy has been tumorous and it is no surprise it has come to the most drastic court ordered release of prisoners in US history to solve the problem. The Atlanta Post reports California Sheds Light On The Need for Criminal Justice Reform.

Thanks to John Malsbary for the tip.