In The Hollow Hope, Gerald Rosenberg outlines the conditions under which the Supreme Court can accomplish significant social reform. It is through a Conditional Court model that the Supreme Court can overcome powerful constraints of limited rights, a lack of independence, and a shortage in implementation tools and move towards achieving change. In Brown v. Plata, the Supreme Court accomplishes significant social reform consistent with Rosenberg’s Conditional Court model based on an analysis of California’s prison population over time, a measure of the Court’s goal in this case.
In Brown v. Plata, the goals of the advocates and the majority of the Supreme Court were to remedy constitutional violations in California state prisons by reducing overcrowding. In his oral argument, Donald Specter, representing Plata et al. , described how overcrowding was the root of inadequate medical and mental health care services for inmates. Specter explained how prison staff could not effectively administer services when physical space was unavailable and the caseload was overwhelming.
In agreement, Justice Kennedy in the majority opinion reaffirmed reducing California’s prison population to a 137. 5% capacity when labeling the increasing suicide rates, poor living conditions, and a deprivation of medical treatment for inmates as a violation of human dignity. The goal presented by the advocates in this case was the preservation of human dignity among inmates by decreasing overcrowding in California’s prisons. An outcome measure that can be used to assess the Court’s impact and success in achieving its goals is an analysis of California’s prison population.
Because overcrowding is dentified as the root cause of poor prison conditions, a decrease or increase in population over time can indicate the court’s ability to affect change. Alternative outcome measures include evaluating the number of deaths occurring inside California prisons or the number of inmates currently experiencing mental or physical health illnesses. These alternate measures place an emphasis on assessing the progression of care for individual inmates, a more socially significant outcome. The primary goal of the Supreme Court, however, focuses on reducing prison overcrowding by instituting population control limits, a general and systematic approach.
Thus, using California’s prison population as an outcome measure is a more realistic assessment of the overall effectiveness of the Court in line with their goals. Based on an analysis of California’s prison population over time, the Supreme Court was successful in achieving its goal of reducing overcrowding in California prisons. In 2011, the Court in Brown v. Plata gave California two years to reduce overcrowding to a 137. 5% capacity, the equivalent to an 113,722 inmate maximum. Though California reduced its prison population it did not meet the deadline and was issued an extension in 2013.
In January of 2015, California officially met the standard set by the court when prisons were at a 137. 2% capacity. A weekly population report conducted by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in April of 2017 displays how California continues to decrease its prison population at a current capacity of 131. 8 %. Thus, data measuring California’s prison population since 2011 suggest that the Court achieved an impact because overcrowding was reduced. Aside from the influence of the Court, alternate explanations exist that can explain changes in California’s prison population.
In his work, Simon describes how the photographs of cramped spaces and empty cages in California prisons ensued a “dignity cascade” where the public redefined the experiences of inmates as negative and sought to preserve their human rights and dignity. The public contributed to reform with the passage of California’s Proposition 46 in 2014 reducing “nonserious” and “nonviolent” offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, by 2015, Prop 46 was responsible for the release of 2,700 inmates from state prisons.
Additionally, a rise in private prisons, transfers to county jails, and transfers to out-of-state prisons can also explain a reduction in prison overcrowding. The CDCR population report from April 2017 reveals that approximately 4,000 inmates in California’s jurisdiction are currently in out-ofstate prisons and 2,000 are housed in private facilities. Using transfers to achieve population control does not necessarily weaken the impact of the Court since their overall goal concentrated on reducing overcrowding and not the release of inmates.
These alternate explanations demonstrate how other factors exist contributing to social change; the Court does not achieve it alone. Rosenberg’s Conditional view of the Supreme Court consists of three constraints that, under certain conditions, can be overcome and lead the Court to accomplish significant social reform. The first constraint the Supreme Court faces is a bounded nature of constitutional rights that can be overcome by “ample legal precedent for change. ” The Court in Brown v. Plata was successful in overcoming this constraint with strong precedent from cases such as Estelle v.
Gamble recognizing inadequate health care in prisons as a violation of the eighth amendment. This case allowed the Court to extend an expectation of adequate health care from an “individual prisoners” to “the entire California prison population. ” Furthermore, Atkins v. Virginia, prohibiting the execution of the mentally ill, and Trop v. Dulles, setting standards for punishment, demonstrate how these cases set the foundation for arguments of human dignity used in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Thus, the ability to overcome this constraint with the use of precedent affirms the Supreme Court operated under a Conditional view.
The second constraint the Supreme Court faces under Rosenberg’s Conditional view is a lack of independence that can be overcome with “substantial support in Congress and from the Executive. ” The Court in Brown v. Plata was able to overcome this constraint and achieve change with support from Governor Jerry Brown and the California state legislature evident in the passage of A. B. 109 in 2011. This bill, known as the “Criminal Justice Alignment Act,” sought to address prison overcrowding by reducing the number of individuals sent to prison when deferring nonserious offenders to county jails, community supervision, and parole.
Additionally, in the 2016 election, Governor Brown was responsible for designing Proposition 57, making nonviolent inmates eligible for parole and early release. The Court in Brown v. Plata was successful in reducing overcrowding due to the continued support of California’s governor and state legislature with their passage of sentencing reform legislations, supporting a conditional view of the Court. The third constraint the Supreme Court faces is a lack of implementation tools necessary to affect reform.
This constraint can be overcome with one out the four following conditions: “positive incentives for compliance,” “costs to induce compliance,” “market implementation,” or by”[using] court orders as a tool for leveraging additional resource of for hiding behind. ” This constraint was overcome through a positive financial incentive for compliance when the state promised counties undergoing realignment block grants to help with the burden of cost. This funding could go towards building new jails and housing more inmates.
Despite only needing to meet one of the four conditions to overcome constraint three, the state also met a second condition of market implementation with the rise of private prisons that functioned to reduce overcrowding. Rosenberg’s Conditional model of the Supreme Court is evident in Brown v. Plata; the Court faced limitations and was able to overcome them by meeting the conditions listed. It is under a Conditional model that the Supreme Court can accomplish significant social reform, in this case, reducing overcrowding in California prisons in an effort preserve the human dignity of inmates.