Alicia Bower


In its May 2011 Brown v. Plata decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a remedial order that required the potential release of a shockingly large number of California prison inmates. The Court found that, because of overcrowding in its prisons, California had failed to provide adequate health care to its prisoners—a failure that constituted a systemwide violation of the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. In order to reach its ultimate result, however, the Court had to confront the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), a statute that Congress had enacted to combat precisely the type of prison reform litigation that Plata embodied. In the end, the Court found its way through the PLRA’s requirements and, in the process, reinforced a strong judicial prerogative to fashion remedies, which now more clearly includes the rare structural injunction.

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