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Modern law review, 75 (2), p.261-274, 2012.


The case of Brown, Governor of California et at v. Plata et al (hereinafter Plata) is one of the most eye-catching decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States in recent times. The result in itself – the upholding of an order of a Californian District Court to reduce the state’s prison population by up to 46,000 prisoners – would warrant attention. The reasoning of the Court and the differences between the majority and minority are also, however, most significant. The willingness of the Court to uphold the drastic measure of ordering a sizeable reduction in the Californian prison population (the first time such an order has been imposed) and the delicate navigation of the separation of powers thereby entailed makes Plata a decision of significance for the protection of prisoners’ rights and the interpretation of the controversial Prison Litigation Reform Act 1995 but also in the Court’s canon of constitutional law. While there is much that makes Plata a crucial decision in the history of prisoners’ litigation in the United States of America, it may not signal a radical shift in penal policy by itself.



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