For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli 213-291-4190 or
Tommy McDonald 510-229-5215

US Supreme Court Hears California Prison Crowding Case

Advocates Urge California to Focus on Resolving Crisis, Including Ending Prison as Response to Drug Use

WASHINGTON - The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Schwarzenegger v. Plata,
a landmark prison rights case in which a federal court found the
unconstitutional conditions of California's prisons were caused
primarily by overcrowding and ordered California to reduce prison
overcrowding from over 200% of design capacity down (by about 40,000
people) to 137.5% of capacity within two years. California has conceded
that the state's prison conditions are unconstitutional but has
nonetheless asked the Supreme Court to put the states' right to
administer its prisons before the constitutional rights of individuals
who are wards of the state.

"One of the primary reasons that the state's prisons are dangerously
overcrowded is that California continues to lock up thousands of people
each year for low-level drug possession. There is no basis in evidence
or principle to expose people to this dangerous environment simply for
the possession of a small amount of illicit substances," says Margaret
Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in
Southern California. "California must follow the lead of other states
like Texas and New York and stop sending people to state prison for drug
possession, which can be handled as a health issue safely, effectively
and affordably in the community."
"The state currently spends $500 million a year to incarcerate 10,000
people for nothing more than personal drug possession," Dooley-Sammuli
continued. "That does not include the unknown number of parolees who
have been returned to prison for a few months based on the results of a
drug test. This is a terrible waste of scarce resources. Treatment in
the community is effective and affordable. Unfortunately, California
this year eliminated funding for community-based treatment for drug
possession arrestees."
"People who use drugs do not belong in the state's cruel and costly
prisons simply for that personal use. We urge California to take the
logical step of ending incarceration as a response to drug possession,
while expanding opportunities for drug treatment in the community,"
continued Dooley-Sammuli.

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