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“The Cook County Board on Tuesday agreed to pay more than $1 million in taxpayer money to settle a federal lawsuit brought by female County Jail inmates who said their civil rights were violated during repeated weekend lockdowns at the massive detention facility. The bulk of the settlement — $850,000 — will go to attorneys who represented the four inmates in the nine-year court case. Two inmates won federal judgments totaling $143,000, and the county opted to pay two others $5,000 to end the suit. … In addition to the $1 million settlement, the county spent at least $732,144 over the years to pay an outside firm to defend it against the suit, according to county records.” The plaintiffs had failed in a bid for class action status. [Chicago Tribune]


Washington: “Lawyers on Monday spent more than two hours arguing over whether a woman charged with aggravated murder should have access to coffee, tea, Cocoa Puffs and candy bars while she’s locked up in the Snohomish County Jail.” [Diana Hefley, "Murder suspect wants Cocoa Puffs in jail," Everett Herald]


Further update roundup

by Walter Olson on December 5, 2011


July 22 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 22, 2011

  • Illinois prisoner sues for land to start his own country [AP]
  • “Have you got a piece of this lawsuit?” Important Roger Parloff piece on litigation finance [Fortune, now out from paywall] “Hedge Funds Finance Medical Malpractice Claims” [Jeff Segal, Michael Sacopulos and Wayne Oliver, Forbes via White Coat]
  • Criminalizing bad parenting: more scrutiny of “Caylee’s Law” proposals [Steve Chapman, L.A. Times and Boston Globe editorials, New Scientist]
  • Deal with ADA complainant averts closure of popular Popponesset Marketplace in Mashpee, Mass. [Cape Cod News]
  • Because it’s not as if NYC needs electricity or anything: Bloomberg gives $50 million to Sierra Club campaign to stop coal burning by utilities [WaPo] “Environmental justice” arguments deployed against pipeline that would bring Alberta tar sands oil to U.S. [John Kendrick, WLF]
  • Unimpaired have permanent right to sue: Fla. high court throws out asbestos-reform law [PBP]
  • Red tape demanded by quality-of-life progressivism suffices to strangle poorer urban economies [Walter Russell Mead]


June 27 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 27, 2011


Watch out for sentencing spin, warns Scott Greenfield.

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June 10 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 10, 2011

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June 1 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 1, 2011


More reactions to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Brown v. Plata decision (earlier) from Scott Greenfield, Heather Mac Donald, and Eli Lehrer. Steven Greenhut explains how compensation for California prison guards came to take priority over facilities improvement; unionized prison employees’ role in lobbying for more draconian incarceration laws has also occasioned much outrage, from, among others, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote this week’s opinion. And (h/t Tyler Cowen) here is a 1995 paper by economist Steven Levitt finding (using numbers from that era) that “For each one-prisoner reduction induced by prison overcrowding litigation, the total number of crimes committed increases by approximately 15 per year. The social benefit from eliminating those 15 crimes is approximately $45,000; the annual per prisoner costs of incarceration are roughly $30,000.”


Alas, my chapter on institutional reform litigation in Schools for Misrule has proved only too relevant to the headlines: In today’s 5-4 Brown v. Plata decision, the Supreme Court approved a Ninth Circuit panel’s order that 46,000 California prisoners be freed to relieve overcrowding (opinion PDF via Josh Blackman). Alito (with Roberts) dissented on the grounds that the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act requires nothing of the sort, and in fact was drafted with a mind to discourage such outcomes:

Before ordering any prisoner release, the PLRA commands a court to “give substantial weight to any adverse impact on public safety or the operation of a criminal justice system caused by the relief.” §3626(a)(1)(A). This provision unmistakably reflects Congress’ view that prisoner release orders are inherently risky. In taking this view, Congress was well aware of the impact of previous prisoner release orders. The prisoner release program carried out a few years earlier in Philadelphia is illustrative. In the early 1990’s, federal courts enforced a cap on the number of inmates in the Philadelphia prison system, and thousands of inmates were set free. Although efforts were made to release only those prisoners who were least likely to commit violent crimes, that attempt was spectacularly unsuccessful. During an 18-month period, the Philadelphia police rearrested thousands of these prisoners for committing 9,732 new crimes. Those defendants were charged with 79 murders, 90 rapes, 1,113 assaults, 959 robberies, 701 burglaries, and 2,748 thefts, not to mention thousands of drug offenses. Members of Congress were well aware of this experience.

Scalia (with Thomas) dissented on the grounds that, PLRA aside, the orders go far beyond the federal courts’ prescribed role and institutional competence:

It is important to recognize that the dressing-up of policy judgments as factual findings is not an error peculiar to this case. It is an unavoidable concomitant of institutional-reform litigation. When a district court issues an injunction, it must make a factual assessment of the anticipated consequences of the injunction. And when the injunction undertakes to restructure a social institution, assessing the factual consequences of the injunction is necessarily the sort of predictive judgment that our system of government allocates to other government officials.

But structural injunctions do not simply invite judges to indulge policy preferences. They invite judges to indulge incompetent policy preferences. Three years of law school and familiarity with pertinent Supreme Court precedents give no insight whatsoever into the management of social institutions. Thus, in the proceeding below the District Court determined that constitutionally adequate medical services could be provided if the prison population was 137.5% of design capacity. This was an empirical finding it was utterly unqualified to make. Admittedly, the court did not generate that number entirely on its own; it heard the numbers 130% and 145% bandied about by various witnesses and decided to split the difference. But the ability of judges to spit back or even average-out numbers spoon-fed to them by expert witnesses does not render them competent decisionmakers in areas in which they are otherwise unqualified.

Concur: Ted Frank, Hans Bader. A contrasting view: Tim Lynch at Cato. Background: podcast with Sarah Hart, Federalist Society. And Jason Mazzone asks whether the majority’s inclusion of a photo of crowded prisoners really helps or hurts its case with the public.


An inmate convicted of murder in 2002 has made it to the appeals court level with a suit against the California Corrections Department’s policy that “sexual reassignment surgery is not a covered benefit.” [KCBS]


Terry Nichols, who did not seem notably concerned about the health of the Oklahoma City victims, has now developed an interest in healthy foodways, but a federal judge did not go along with his request to order that his diet be changed to include more whole grains and fruits. [Lowering the Bar]


July 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 23, 2010


“A jailed 45-year-old welfare cheat who wants another child claims her human rights have been breached because she has been refused access to fertility treatment. … The case is being run by six barristers and six solicitors with much of the legal bill being picked up by taxpayers.” [Melbourne Herald-Sun]


May 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on May 5, 2010

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A lawyer for a condemned Ohio prisoner says it could be illegal to execute him because he may be allergic to the anesthesia used in the lethal injection procedure. [AP/Columbus Dispatch via James Taranto, who has additional background]


KOMO News:

The [officers'] widows believe that if someone had been listening to [Maurice] Clemmons’ jailhouse phone calls, their husbands could still be alive today. …

While they were recorded, the calls from the Pierce County Jail were never monitored. No one heard them. …

[Pierce County sheriff spokesman Ed] Troyer said it was “preposterous” to think that the county could have listened to every phone call made from the jail.

“It would take over 40 people and $50 million a year to do,” he said. “Plus, we don’t even believe that it’s legal just to randomly listen to people’s phone calls on a full-time basis.”

Washington has gone farther than other states in exposing its state and local governments to exposure in lawsuits alleging failure to prevent crime.

Update: Families drop claims the next day after highly adverse public reaction [Seattle Times]


“A Florida prison inmate is suing the nudie magazine because it refused to send a subscription to him behind bars.” [Citrus Daily, Gothamist]