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Federal judge 'hopeful' of resolution in California prison overcrowding case

[JURIST] Judge Thelton Henderson [official profile] of the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] told the Sacramento Bee Saturday he was "hopeful" that a court battle between the state of California and inmate advocacy groups over state prison conditions could be resolved before trial. Henderson is a member of a panel of three federal judges [JURIST report] considering motions filed by lawyers in class action suits relating to medical and mental health care in the prisons. In an interview following a speech in San Francisco, Henderson expressed his satisfaction with the work of J. Clark Kelso, the newly appointed prison medical receiver, and also supported plans by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] for early release of thousands of prisoners [JURIST report]. The Sacramento Bee has local coverage. The San Francisco Chronicle has additional coverage.

The problem of overcrowding in the California prison system is being monitored by the federal panel as a result of two class action lawsuits filed on behalf of California prisoners by the Prison Law Office [advocacy website]. In those two suits, Coleman v. Schwarzenegger and Plata v. Schwarzenegger [opinions, PDF], the US District Courts for the Eastern and Northern Districts of California, respectively, found that the overcrowding of the California prison system amounted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight Amendment of the US Constitution. Henderson assumed oversight of the California prison health care system [JURIST report] in 2005. In July 2007, the court ordered the formation of a special three-judge panel to supervise and reduce California's prison population after finding that California's prison overcrowding was preventing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] from adequately providing mental health care. The receivership held by Kelso was designed to oversee the development of remedies for the systematic constitutional violation and to monitor implementation of court-approved remedies.

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