The major cases successfully litigated by the Prison Law Office include:
• Disability Rights
• Excessive force
• General Conditions
• Lifer Parole Considerations
• Juvenile Facilities
• Medical and Mental Health Care
• Parolee Rights
In addition to federal impact cases, the office has won numerous state court actions concerning prisoners' rights. These cases include petitions that have vindicated the right to marry, protected prison visits, and established rights to free expression and to refuse medical care.
Documents and information about many of the Prison Law Office's major cases are available at the University of Michigan Law School's Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse. Many of the links on this page are to that excellent resource.
In a landmark decision in May 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that overcrowding in California's prisons resulted in cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court's ruling required the state to reduce its prison population by approximately 32,000 prisoners within two years. Read the Court Opinion and Press Release.
Other materials from the U.S. Supreme Court case are available, including the recording and transcript of the oral arguments, the Prison Law Office's brief on behalf of prisoners with medical needs (the Plata class), Rosen, Bien & Galvan's brief on behalf of mentally-ill prisoners (the Coleman class), and the California Correctional Peace Officers' Association's brief supporting the prisoners' position. A selection of the trial transcripts and exhibits, including videos and photos, is available at Rosen, Bien & Galvan's website.
The Court affirmed a January 2010 order made by three federal judges directing California officials to reduce the state's severe prison overcrowding. The Order requires California to reduce its prison overcrowding to 137.5 percent of design capacity, in accord with a plan submitted by the state in November 2009.
The population reduction order is the result of lengthy litigation. The matter was initiated when federal judges who oversee California's prison medical and mental health care systems ordered that a three-judge court be convened to consider placing limits on California's prison population. The orders were issued after the judges concluded that California prisons are unable to provide constitutionally-adequate medical care (Plata) and mental health care (Coleman) due in part to severe overcrowding. View the Plata v. Schwarzenegger Order and the Coleman v. Schwarzenegger Order.
A trial in front of a federal three-judge court began on November 18, 2008. On August 4, 2009, the three judges found that overcrowding is the primary cause of unconstitutional conditions in California's prisons, such as the system's inability to provide competent and timely health care for prisoners. The judges also found compelling evidence that reducing the prison population is the only way to address the problems. The judges issued a 184-page order for the state to come up with a plan to reduce the prison population by up to 40,000, to 137.5% of the system's design capacity within two years.
On November 12, 2009, the State submitted its plan. Included in the state' plan are changes adopted by recently-passed legislation. The plan calls for increasing the prison system's capacity in various ways, diverting some felons to county jails or home detention, reducing revocations of probation and parole, and granting some prisoners additional sentence credits.
For more detailed background information on the Plata and Coleman cases, visit the sections of this page on Medical and Mental Health Care cases.
Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections v. Yeskey:
The U.S. Supreme Court held in a unanimous opinion, published at (1998) 524 U.S. 206, that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state prisoners.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a parole board may not exclude a class of disabled people (in this case, people with substance abuse histories) from consideration for parole based on the disability. Published at(2002) 295 F.3d 890.
Armstrong v. Davis (BPT):
A federal District Court judge issued an injunction, ordering the Board of Prison Terms to remedy its shocking and appalling failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during parole hearings. The order came after a trial during which one prisoner told of having to leave his wheelchair behind to crawl upstairs to a hearing, a deaf prisoner told the judge he was shackled during his hearing and could not communicate with the sign language interpreter, and a blind inmate said he was offered no help with complicated written materials. The injunction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an opinion pubished at (2001) 275 F.3d 849. The opinion and additional information and documents concerning this on-going case are available here.
Armstrong v. Wilson:
After finding that the CDC was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, the Court issued an injunction to improve access to prison programs for prisoners with physical disabilities at all of California's prisons and parole facilities. The case is reported at 942 F.Supp. 1252 (N.D. Cal. 1996) aff'd 124 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 1997). See also, Clark v. California, 123 F.3d 1267 (9th Cir. 1997) (ADA and Rehabilitation Act abrogated State's 11th Amendment immunity). Additional information and documents concerning this on-going case are available here.
Clark v. California:
After extensive discovery in a class action lawsuit, prison officials agreed to develop and implement a plan to screen inmates for developmental disabilities, and to provide developmentally disabled prisoners with safe housing and supportive services. Click here for court opinions, other documents and more information about this on-going case.
In September 2010, afederal district court judge has issued an Order rejecting the CDCR's motion to terminate the Clark consent decree and remedial plan. The court found that the state prison system is not providing the services and assistance required by the remedial plan and that additional remedial measures are necessary to improve staff training, identification and auditing procedures.
Madrid v. Gomez:
The case, reported at 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995), was filed to remedy unconstitutional conditions at California's "super-maximum" Pelican Bay State Prison. As a result of this case, the federal court issued injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. Pelican Bay is currently being monitored by a court-appointed special master. In 2004, the special master issued a stinging summary of corruption among high level prison officials, who thwarted investigations into prison guard misconduct. To read the Special Master's report,court opinions, or other case documents, or for more information about the case, click here.
Clement v. CDC:
Ina First Amendment victory for prisoners and their correspondents, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a court order striking down a policy that prohibited many California prisoners from receiving mail containing printed material from the internet. Opinion is published at (2004) 364 F.3d 1148. For other documents and more information, click here.
Farrell v. Cate:
California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with many aspect of the conditions in the CYA's facilities. For more information on this case, read the discussion under Juvenile Facilities cases below.
Thompson v. Enomoto:
A consent decree was obtained to improve conditions and establish rights for condemned prisoners at San Quentin.
Toussaint v. McCarthy:
Conditions in the segregated lock-up units at San Quentin, Folsom, Soledad, and Deuel Vocational Institute were declared unconstitutional by a federal court. The case is reported at 597 F.Supp. 1388 (N.D. Cal. 1984) aff'd 801 F.2d 1080 (9th Cir. 1986).
Wilson v. Deukmejian:
The state court found that the conditions in the general population units at San Quentin were cruel and unusual punishment and issued an injunction to ensure that conditions improved.
Medical and Mental Health Care
Perez v. Tilton:
An Amended Stipulation and Order filed in this federal class action lawsuit on August 21, 2006 requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide adequate dental care for state prisoners. Pursuant to this federal court order, the CDCR must implement new procedures and policies to ensure that prisoners receive competent and timely dental treatment. Compliance is to be monitored by the prisoners' attorneys and their consultants, as well as independent court-appointed experts.
Farrell v. Cate:
California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with conditions in the CYA's facilities, including medical and mental health care and sex offender treatment. For more information on this case, read the discussion under Juvenile Facilities cases below.
Plata v. Davis/Schwarzenegger:
In the largest ever prison class action lawsuit, prisoners alleged that California officials inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to serious medical needs. A settlement agreement filed in 2002 requires the California Department of Corrections to completely overhaul its medical care policies and procedures, and to pump significant resources into the prisons to ensure timely access to adequate care. The settlement allows the state to phase in the new policies and procedures over several years and gives an independent medical panel the responsibility to audit the state's progress. You can read the Complaint and Settlement Agreement filed in this case, as well as the January 30, 2002 SF Chronicle article about the settlement.
In an Order to Show Cause issued in May 2005, the federal district court judge who oversees the Plata case described medical treatment in the prisons as "horrifying" and "shocking," and discussed expert reports revealing continued widespread medical malpractice and neglect. Subsequently, in October 2005, the judge issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, ordering that California's prison medical care system be placed under the control of a court-appointed receiver. The court found that the system is "broken beyond repair," causing an "unconscionable degree of suffering and death." Among the shocking findings are that, on average, an inmate in one of California's prisons needlessly dies every six to seven days due to grossly deficient medical care.
In October 2005, a federal judge issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, ordering that California's prison medical care system be placed under the control of a court-appointed receiver. The court found that the system is "broken beyond repair," causing an "unconscionable degree of suffering and death." Among the shocking findings are that, on average, an inmate in one of California's prisons needlessly dies every six to seven days due to grossly deficient medical care.
In March 2009, the federal judge overseeing the Plata case issued an Order denying the State's motion to terminate the appointment of the Receiver who is overseeing efforts to remedy unconstitutional medical care conditions in California's prisons. The judge expressed a lack of confidence that the State would provide constitutionally-adequate medical care or maintain improvements made under the Receiver's supervision. The judge also denied the state's motion to terminate the Receiver's plan to construct improved medical care facilities. In April 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court order and rejected California's attempt to end judicial control of its prison health care system. Read the Ninth Circuit opinion.
Budd v. Cambra (San Francisco Superior Court Case No. 319578):
In May 2002 the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the California Department of Corrections (CDC) has been and violated the law by failing to license health care facilities that provide inpatient treatment to the almost 160,000 prisoners throughout the state. The Court granted plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and issued a permanent injunction ordering the CDC to comply with the law.
Coleman v. Wilson:
The court found that the entire mental health system operated by the California Department of Corrections was unconstitutional and that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the needs of mentally ill inmates. All thirty-three institutions in the CDC are presently being monitored by a court-appointed special master to evaluate the CDC's compliance with the Court's order. The case is reported at 912 F.Supp. 1282 (E.D. Cal. 1995).
Madrid v. Gomez:
Conditions at California's "super-maximum" Pelican Bay State Prison have been subject to injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. As a result of this case, Pelican Bay is currently being monitored by a court-appointed special master. The case is reported at 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995)
Gates v. Deukmejian:
Prison officials agreed to a consent decree to improve medical care, psychiatric care, the treatment of HIV+ prisoners and to reduce crowding at the California Medical Facility. The consent decree in Gates resulted in monitoring of CMF for many years by a special master. Many of the issues in Gates are now monitored as part of Coleman. The case is reported at 987 F.2d 1392 (9th Cir. 1993), Gates v. Rowland, 39 F.3d 1439 (9th Cir. 1994), and Gates v. Rowland, 60 F.3d 525 (9th Cir. 1995)
Marin v. Rushen:
A settlement agreement was in effect for many years that is designed to improve medical and psychiatric care at San Quentin.
Lifer Parole Considerations
In re Rosenkrantz (BPT):
In an on-going battle against the Board of Prison Terms' and Governor Davis's lifer parole policies, a California Court of Appeals condemned the BPT for failing to fairly consider evidence of a life prisoner's suitability for parole, and ordered the BPT to re-hear the prisoner's case. (In re Rosenkrantz (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 409) The BPT subsequently found Mr. Rosenkrantz suitable for parole, but the Governor blocked parole. The prisoner filed an amended habeas petition naming the Governor as a defendant, and on June 21, 2001, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued an order for Mr. Rosenkrantz's release, finding that he had been denied an individualized determination of suitability and that the Governor's "no parole" policy violated due process. The state appealed the order and the California Supreme Court granted a stay of the Los Angeles Court's order pending appeal. In January 2002, the Court of Appeal affirmed the order for Mr. Rosenkrantz's release. The state sought review in the California Supreme Court; in an opinion isssued December 16, 2002, the Court denied the challenge to the Governor's "No-Parole" policy, setting back many model life prisoners' hopes for parole. The case is published at (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case on April 21, 2003.
In re Smith:
A Court of Appeal overturned a parole recission in a case where the recission was not based on "some evidence" and the Governor failed to make an individualized consideration of the case factors. See In re Smith (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 489.
Thompson/Bogovich v. Davis:
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a parole board may not exclude a class of disabled people (in this case, people with substance abuse histories) from consideration for parole based on a disability. You can view a PDF file of the Ninth Circuit Opinion (2002) 295 F.3d 890. .
Farrell v. Cate:
California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with conditions in the CYA's facilities. The decree requires the CYA to provide wards with adequate and effective care, treatment and rehabilitation services, including reducing violence and the use of force, improving medical and mental health care, reducing the use of lock-ups and providing better education programs.
Subsequently, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which is the agency now in charge of California's youth facilities has finalized several remedial plans to correct problems with the system, and the Court has ordered that the plans be implemented. These are the Disabilities Remedial Plan, with Appendices A, B, and C (Parts 1, 2, and 3), the Education Remedial Plan(and Order), the Medical Care Remedial Plan, the Sexual Behavior Treatment Remedial Plan, the Safety & Welfare Remedial Plan, and the Mental Health Remedial Plan.
The remedial plans are the result of the Farrell v. Cate lawsuit, which was initiated with a complaint slamming conditions in the juvenile justice system that was filed in state court in January 2003. An amended complaint was filed in September 2003. In February 2004, expert reports were filed that discuss in detail the many abuses faced by CYA wards:
• Report on Disability Access and Programming
• Report on Mental Health Care and Substance Abuse Treatment
• Report on Health Care Services
• Report on Education Programs
• Report on Sex Offender Treatment Programs
• Report on General Conditions(Safety, Use of Force, Segregation)
In January 2005 , California officials and the Prison Law Office reached an agreement on a schedule for reforming the juvenile justice system and creating a system that is rehabilitative and provides a therapeutic environment for juvenile offenders. Read the Press Releaseand Stipulation Regarding California Youth Authority Remedial Effortshere.
Under pressure from the Prison Law Office, California correctional officials agreed to bring in national experts to help design a new state rehabilitative juvenile justice system. The agreement is set forth in a Stipulationfiled on December 1, 2005.
In April 2006, a team of national experts released a comprehensive Reportdescribing the problems in California's juvenile justice facilities as the result of a "broken" system that is both overly-expensive and ineffective. The report recommended various reforms, including a new management structure, and urged the state to focus efforts on reducing the level of violence in its youth facilities. Since then, the Special Master in the Farrell case has filed periodic reports detailing the changes in conditions for wards at Department of Juvenile Justice facilities:
• April 2006 First Quarterly Report
• June 2006 Second Quarterly Report and Appendices
• December 2006 Third Quarterly Report and Appendices
• July 2007 Fourth Quarterly Report with Appendices discussing Safety and Welfare, Mental Health, Part 1 and Part 2, Medical Care, Education, and Staffing, Part 1and Part 2
• October 2007 Fifth Quarterly Report, with Appendices on Safety and Welfare, Medical Care, Sex Offender Treatmentand Disabilities
• January 2008 Sixth Quarterly Report
• April 2008 Seventh Quarterly Report
• February 2009 Eighth Quarterly Report with Appendices on Education (A), Disabilities (B) and Sex OffenderTreatment (C)
• September 2009 Ninth Quarterly Report, with appendices A-B, Cand D, and E-F
• November 2009 Tenth Quarterly Report, with appendices A-B, C D-G, and facility health care audits
• November 2009 Eleventh Quarterly Report, with appendices A, B, C, D, E, F, G1-2, G3, G4-8, H and I
• December 2009 Twelfth Quarterly Report, with appendices A and B
• January 2010 Reports of site visits to DJJ facilities. Cover page and individual reports concerning: Preston, Central Office, OH Close, Chaderjian and Ventura
• February 2010 Thirteenth Quarterly Report, with appendices A, B, C, D, E, F and G
• February 2010 Fourteenth Quarterly Report, with appendices A, B, C, D, and E
• July 2010 Fifteenth Quarterly Report
• November 2010 Sixteenth Quarterly Report
• Spring 2011 reports on the Sexual Behavior Treatment Program
• June 2011 Seventeenth Quarterly Report
• July 2011 Eighteenth Quarterly Report
• September 2011 Nineteenth Quarterly Report with Appendices A-C, D and E
• January 2012 Twentieth Quarterly Report
• April 2012 Twenty-first Quarterly Report
• July 2012 Twenty-second Quarterly Report, part 1 and part 2
• October 2012 Twenty-third Quarterly Report
• January 2013 Twenty-fourth Quarterly Report
• April 2013 Twenty-fifth Quarterly Report.
Additional documents and information about this on-going case are available here.
County Juvenile Hall Cases:
A statewide drive to end illegal and inhumane conditions in California county juvenile halls started in 2006 with the filing of several lawsuits. The suits sought court orders requiring the state authority responsible for being a watchdog over juvenile halls -- the Corrections Standards Authority (CSA) -- to fulfill its duties and take action to correct intolerable conditions. Such conditions include severe overcrowding, lack of access to school programs, endemic violence, excessive use of force by staff, and virtually non-existent mental health care.
In 2008, officials responsible for San Joaquin County's juvenile hall agreed to make numerous improvements in conditions to ensure the safety and humane treatment of wards housed in that facility. The agreement is set forth in a Consent Decree. Learn more about the case from this Press Release.
In 2009, Sacramento County officials signed two agreements to provide a blueprint for transforming juvenile detention from a punitive environment to one where the focus is on protection and rehabilition. Pursuant to one Consent Decree, the Probation Department will make various changes including putting reasonable limits on the population levels in its facilities and adopting policies to end the illegal use of excessive force. In a separate Settlement, the Office of Education agreed to make improvements in the juvenile halls' education programs.
Senate Bill 81, which became law in August 2007, made sweeping changes to California's juvenile justice system by imposing strict eligibility requirements for commitment to state juvenile facilities and channelling resources into county juvenile systems. A 2009 Report released by the Prison Law Office examines how counties are adapting to the changes, ways in which implementation could be improved and shortcomings in the legislation.
Stanislaus County Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative
Girls make up the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice population and, as a group, their reasons for involvement in the juvenile justice system are different than those for justice-involved boys. Justice-involved girls and boys also have different needs. Treating justice-involved girls and boys in a generic manner does not meet the needs of girls and may even leave them worse off, leading to deeper involvement in the juvenile justice system. Without gender-responsive assessments, programs, and services, an opportunity to address the issues that lead to justice-involvement for girls is missed. For more information, read the Prison Law Office's Report about why we need gender-responsive assessments, programs and services for justice-involved girls.
Since December 2009, the Prison Law Office has been working with the Stanislaus County Probation Department on the Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative. The goal of the Initiative is two-fold:
• To better serve young women in Stanislaus County who are at-risk of being involved in the juvenile justice system, are currently in out-of-home placements, or have recently been released from such placements; and
• To document the process and outcomes of the initiative to assist other counties to identify the most effective ways to meet the needs of their young women at-risk of being involved, currently involved, and previously involved in the juvenile justice system.
In March 2010, the Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative Planning Team developed and disseminated two online surveys to stakeholders in the fields of criminal justice, education, child development, public and mental health in Stanislaus County. The surveys demonstrated that while the need for gender-responsive services was clear, more education regarding how to meet the particular needs of the target population was necessary. The majority of survey respondents did not believe that the needs of girls at-risk of being involved in, currently involved in, and previously involved in the juvenile justice system were being met. For more findings, read the Stakeholder Survey Summary
In July 2010, the Stanislaus County Probation Department and the Prison Law Office convened a meeting of service providers who were concerned about the services available to the young women in their community who were at risk of becoming or were already involved in the juvenile justice system.
The Stanislaus County Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative Strategic Plan was completed in December 2010 and is organized around a set of focus areas that were identified through the stakeholder survey, community stakeholder meeting, individual meetings and focus groups with service providers, justice-involved girls and their families. These focus areas are:
• Assessment of policies and practices negatively impacting girls at-risk of being or currently involved in the juvenile justice system
• Improvement of gender-responsive, including trauma-informed, services for these girls
• Provision of gender-responsive training for juvenile justice staff and other service providers
• Improvement of collaboration between stakeholders to meet the needs of these girls
• Implementation of assessment and data collection systems to understand girls' profiles and trends.
A taskforce was created and began meeting in February 2011 to determine priorities, develop strategies, and assign responsibility to stakeholders committed to implementing the Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative Strategic Plan. As of February 2012, the following goals have been met:
• Probation has implemented Juvenile Assessment and Intervention System (JAIS), a gender-responsive risk instrument, needs assessment, and intervention planning tool.
• Over 80 service providers attended gender-responsive trainings conducted by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency's Center for Girls and Young Women and the Youth Justice Institute.
• A dedicated girls Probation Officer and a Center for Human Services caseworker and clinician work together to divert girls from detention for probation violations, bench warrants, or failures to appear and provide them with services to support them in successfully completing probation.
• With support and guidance from Unit Staff, girls in juvenile hall launched an organization they named Young Women United for a Better Cause. They meet weekly to identify issues to work on, brainstorm solutions, and take steps to reach them. They have been successful in advocating for some policy changes in the unit and are learning leadership skills in the process.
• A volunteer yoga instructor has begun teaching a class in the girls unit and unit staff have begun a sewing program with two donated sewing machines.
• The Parent Resource Center and Probation have launched the MY Project (Mentoring Youth Project) that will match volunteer mentors to girls in custody who will continue working with the girls after they're released to help them transition back to their communities.
• Probation has installed resource racks in all juvenile hall units so that youth can learn about available services before they leave custody.
• County partners have developed fact sheets regarding suspension, expulsion, and special education rights in response to youth concerns.
• Aspiranet converted a group home serving boys to one that serves girls and both clinical and house staff participated in gender-responsive training.
The Stanislaus County Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative was highlighted in the report Improving the Juvenile Justice System for Girls: Lessons from the States from the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.
For more information about the Stanislaus County Girls Juvenile Justice Initiative, contact Lynn Wu (email@example.com).
Valdivia v. Davis
A federal court found that that delays in the parole revocation process violated due process protections. (Valdivia v. Davis (E.D. 2002) 206 F.Supp.2d 1068.) As a result, the California Department of Corrections and Board of Prison Terms agreed to a stipulated permanent injunction to improve the timeliness of parole revocation proceedings. The Remedial Plan adopted under the injunction includes provisions for using alternative sanctions for minor parole violations, a probable cause hearing no more than 10 business days after a parolee is notified of charges, a revocation hearing no later than 35 days after a parole hold is placed, and appointment of attorneys to represent all parolees facing revocation proceedings.
Armstrong v. Davis (BPT):
A federal District Court judge issued an injunction, ordering the Board of Prison Terms to remedy its shocking and appalling failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during parole hearings. The order came after a trial during which one prisoner told of having to leave his wheelchair behind to crawl upstairs to a hearing, a deaf prisoner told the judge he was shackled during his hearing and could not communicate with the sign language interpreter, and a blind inmate said he was offered no help with complicated written materials. The injunction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (2001) 275 F.3d 849.
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