Panel to consider prison overcrowding
By Julia Cheever
July 28, 2007
A special three-judge panel to consider overcrowding in California
prisons and possibly an order for the release of some prisoners
has now been appointed.
The panel was named Thursday by Chief Judge Mary Schroeder of
the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
It will consist of U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San
Francisco, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento
and 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles.
Henderson and Karlton are the two federal trial judges who issued
simultaneous orders on Monday calling for the creation of a three-judge
Henderson and Karlton are presiding over two separate lawsuits
filed over inadequate health care for the 173,000 prisoners in
the state's overcrowded prisons. Both said in their orders that
a prison population limit, while a last resort, may be the only
way to correct health care that is so deficient it violates constitutional
A federal law, the U.S. Litigation Reform Act of 1995, provides
that only a special three-judge panel can order the release of
prisoners in a constitutional case.
Reinhardt, the third judge on the special panel, is considered
to be one of the most liberal judges on the 9th Circuit.
There was no word on how soon the panel may hold a hearing, according
to lawyers in the cases.
Donald Spector, an attorney for prisoners in both lawsuits, said,
"We're looking forward to litigating our request for a limit
on the prison population."
He said he was pleased that Schroeder acted quickly.
As chief circuit judge, Schroeder was designated by the federal
law to appoint the panel.
Bill Maile, a spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said
the administration yesterday filed notice that it is appealing
the two orders to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Schwarzenegger also asked the two trial judges to stay their
orders until the appeal is heard. A stay is not automatic in such
cases, however, Spector said.
Maile said that while awaiting developments on the appeal and
the stay request, the state government "will work with the
He said, "We will seek to show that efforts by the administration
to address overcrowding explain why a prisoner release order is
"We will continue to do all we can to ensure public safety,"
The convening of a three-judge panel under the prison litigation
law is rare. Spector said he knew of only two other such panels
created since the law was passed and in one of those cases, a
settlement was reached before the panel could rule.
The 173,000 prisoners are housed in facilities originally designed
for 100,000. Lawyers for the prisoners said in court briefs that
a reasonable and safe limit might be 138,000, the number suggested
in a 2004 report by an independent prison review panel.
Copyright © 2007 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication,
Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent
of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.