By Mark Ladov and Inimai Chettiar. Ladov is Counsel in the Justice Program and Chettiar is the Director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The Justice Program focuses on improving our system of justice by ending unnecessary incarceration, securing full legal representation for the poor, and ensuring equal access to the courts while eradicating racial disparities.This piece is crossposted at the Brennan Center blog
California is again at a crossroads in managing its over-bloated prison population. The decision in a case pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals could affect whether California becomes a success story in reforming its criminal justice system.
The Brennan Center for Justice, the Sentencing Project, the ACLU of Northern California, and other groups have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Valdivia v. Brown, arguing for the right to counsel in all instances where someone could be sent back to prison for a parole violation. But what’s at stake is far more than just parole procedure: failure to provide right to counsel could directly contribute to a growth inCalifornia’s prison system from increased parole revocations.
Last year, in Brown v. Plata, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce prison overcrowding to remedy constitutional violations of prisoners’ rights. The state’s legislature and Governor Brown have been busy trying to comply with that decision. To reduce the prison population without affecting public safety, the state enacted a “Realignment Plan” and considered several other measures, including making possession of drugs into a misdemeanor instead of a felony, reducing the state’s use of pre-trial detention, and reforming the state’s harsh “three-strikes-you’re-out” law.