Major Cases & Achievements of Prison Law Office


The major cases successfully litigated by the Prison Law Office include:

Disability Rights
Excessive force
General Conditions
Lifer Parole Considerations
Juvenile Facilities
Medical and Mental Health Care
Parolee Rights

In addition to federal impact cases, the office has won numerous state court actions concerning prisoners’ rights. These cases include petitions that have vindicated the right to marry, protected prison visits, and established rights to free expression and to refuse medical care.

Disability Rights

Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections v. Yeskey:

The U.S. Supreme Court held in a unanimous opinion, published at (1998) 524 U.S. 206, that the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to state prisoners.

Thompson/Bogovich:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a parole board may not exclude a class of disabled people (in this case, people with substance abuse histories) from consideration for parole based on the disability. You can view a PDF file of the Ninth Circuit Opinion (2002) 295 F.3d 890.

Armstrong v. Davis (BPT):

A federal District Court judge issued an injunction, ordering the Board of Prison Terms to remedy its shocking and appalling failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during parole hearings. The order came after a trial during which one prisoner told of having to leave his wheelchair behind to crawl upstairs to a hearing, a deaf prisoner told the judge he was shackled during his hearing and could not communicate with the sign language interpreter, and a blind inmate said he was offered no help with complicated written materials. The injunction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (2001) 275 F.3d 849.

Armstrong v. Wilson:

After finding that the CDC was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, the Court issued an injunction to improve access to prison programs for prisoners with physical disabilities at all of California’s prisons and parole facilities. The case is reported at 942 F.Supp. 1252 (N.D. Cal. 1996) aff’d 124 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 1997). See also, Clark v. California, 123 F.3d 1267 (9th Cir. 1997) (ADA and Rehabilitation Act abrogated State’s 11th Amendment immunity).

Clark v. California:

After extensive discovery in a class action lawsuit, prison officials agreed to develop and implement a plan to screen inmates for developmental disabilities, and to provide developmentally disabled prisoners with safe housing and supportive services.

Excessive Force

Madrid v. Gomez:

The case, reported at 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995), was filed to remedy unconstitutional conditions at California’s “super-maximum” Pelican Bay State Prison. As a result of this case, the federal court issued injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. Pelican Bay is currently being monitored by a court-appointed special master. In 2004, the s pecial master issued a stinging summary of corruption among high level prison officials, who thwarted investigations into prison guard misconduct. Read the Special Master’s Report.

General Conditions

Clement v. CDC:

Ina First Amendment victory for prisoners and their correspondents, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a court order striking down a policy that prohibited many California prisoners from receiving mail containing printed material from the internet. Read the Ninth Circuit opinion here.

Farrell v. Cate:

California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with many aspect of the conditions in the CYA’s facilities. For more information on this case, read the discussion under Juvenile Facilities cases below.

Thompson v. Enomoto:

A consent decree was obtained to improve conditions and establish rights for condemned prisoners at San Quentin.

Toussaint v. McCarthy:

Conditions in the segregated lock-up units at San Quentin, Folsom, Soledad, and Deuel Vocational Institute were declared unconstitutional by a federal court. The case is reported at 597 F.Supp. 1388 (N.D. Cal. 1984) aff’d 801 F.2d 1080 (9th Cir. 1986).

Wilson v. Deukmejian:

The state court found that the conditions in the general population units at San Quentin were cruel and unusual punishment and issued an injunction to ensure that conditions improved.

Medical and Mental Health Care

Perez v. Tilton:

An Amended Stipulation and Order filed in this federal class action lawsuit on August 21, 2006 requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide adequate dental care for state prisoners. Pursuant to this federal court order, the CDCR must implement new procedures and policies to ensure that prisoners receive competent and timely dental treatment. Compliance is to be monitored by the prisoners’ attorneys and their consultants, as well as independent court-appointed experts.

Farrell v. Cate:

California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with conditions in the CYA’s facilities, including medical and mental health care and sex offender treatment. For more information on this case, read the discussion under Juvenile Facilities cases below.

Plata v. Davis/Schwarzenegger:

In the largest ever prison class action lawsuit, prisoners alleged that California officials inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by being deliberately indifferent to serious medical needs. A settlement agreement filed in 2002 requires the California Department of Corrections to completely overhaul its medical care policies and procedures, and to pump significant resources into the prisons to ensure timely access to adequate care. The settlement allows the state to phase in the new policies and procedures over several years and gives an independent medical panel the responsibility to audit the state’s progress. You can read the Complaint and Settlement Agreement filed in this case, as well as the January 30, 2002 SF Chronicle article about the settlement.

In an Order to Show Cause issued in May 2005, the federal district court judge who oversees the Plata case described medical treatment in the prisons as “horrifying” and “shocking,” and discussed expert reports revealing continued widespread medical malpractice and neglect. Subsequently, in October 2005, the judge issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, ordering that California’s prison medical care system be placed under the control of a court-appointed receiver. The court found that the system is “broken beyond repair,” causing an “unconscionable degree of suffering and death.” Among the shocking findings are that, on average, an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six to seven days due to grossly deficient medical care.

In October 2005, a federal judge issued Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, ordering that California’s prison medical care system be placed under the control of a court-appointed receiver. The court found that the system is “broken beyond repair,” causing an “unconscionable degree of suffering and death.” Among the shocking findings are that, on average, an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six to seven days due to grossly deficient medical care.

Budd v. Cambra (San Francisco Superior Court Case No. 319578):

In May 2002 the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the California Department of Corrections (CDC) has been and violated the law by failing to license health care facilities that provide inpatient treatment to the almost 160,000 prisoners throughout the state. The Court granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and issued a permanent injunction ordering the CDC to comply with the law.

Coleman v. Wilson:

The court found that the entire mental health system operated by the California Department of Corrections was unconstitutional and that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to the needs of mentally ill inmates. All thirty-three institutions in the CDC are presently being monitored by a court-appointed special master to evaluate the CDC’s compliance with the Court’s order. The case is reported at 912 F.Supp. 1282 (E.D. Cal. 1995).

Madrid v. Gomez:

Conditions at California’s “super-maximum” Pelican Bay State Prison have been subject to injunctions aimed at eliminating excessive force, improving health care and removing prisoners with mental illness from the Security Housing Unit. As a result of this case, Pelican Bay is currently being monitored by a court-appointed special master. The case is reported at 889 F.Supp. 1146 (N.D. Cal. 1995)

Gates v. Deukmejian:

Prison officials agreed to a consent decree to improve medical care, psychiatric care, the treatment of HIV+ prisoners and to reduce crowding at the California Medical Facility. The consent decree in Gates resulted in monitoring of CMF for many years by a special master. Many of the issues in Gates are now monitored as part of Coleman. The case is reported at 987 F.2d 1392 (9th Cir. 1993), Gates v. Rowland, 39 F.3d 1439 (9th Cir. 1994), and Gates v. Rowland, 60 F.3d 525 (9th Cir. 1995)

Marin v. Rushen:

A settlement agreement was in effect for many years that is designed to improve medical and psychiatric care at San Quentin.

Lifer Parole Considerations

In re Rosenkrantz (BPT):

In an on-going battle against the Board of Prison Terms’ and Governor Davis’s lifer parole policies, a California Court of Appeals condemned the BPT for failing to fairly consider evidence of a life prisoner’s suitability for parole, and ordered the BPT to re-hear the prisoner’s case. (In re Rosenkrantz (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 409) The BPT subsequently found Mr. Rosenkrantz suitable for parole, but the Governor blocked parole. The prisoner filed an amended habeas petition naming the Governor as a defendant, and on June 21, 2001, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge issued an order for Mr. Rosenkrantz’s release, finding that he had been denied an individualized determination of suitability and that the Governor’s “no parole” policy violated due process. The state appealed the order and the California Supreme Court granted a stay of the Los Angeles Court’s order pending appeal. In January 2002, the Court of Appeal affirmed the order for Mr. Rosenkrantz’s release. The state sought review in the California Supreme Court; in an opinion isssued December 16, 2002, the Court denied the challenge to the Governor’s “No-Parole” policy, setting back many model life prisoners’ hopes for parole. The case is published at (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case on April 21, 2003.

In re Smith:

A Court of Appeal overturned a parole recission in a case where the recission was not based on “some evidence” and the Governor failed to make an individualized consideration of the case factors. See In re Smith (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 489.

Thompson/Bogovich v. Davis:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a parole board may not exclude a class of disabled people (in this case, people with substance abuse histories) from consideration for parole based on a disability. You can view a PDF file of the Ninth Circuit Opinion (2002) 295 F.3d 890. .

Juvenile Facilities

Farrell v. Cate:

California Youth Authority (CYA) officials signed a consent decree, agreeing to remedy serious on-going problems with conditions in the CYA’s facilities. The decree requires the CYA to provide wards with adequate and effective care, treatment and rehabilitation services, including reducing violence and the use of force, improving medical and mental health care, reducing the use of lock-ups and providing better education programs.

Subsequently, the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which is the agency now in charge of California’s youth facilities has finalized several remedial plans to correct problems with the system, and the Court has ordered that the plans be implemented. These are the Disabilities Remedial Plan, with Appendices A, B, and C (Parts 1, 2, and 3), the Education Remedial Plan (and Order), the Medical Care Remedial Plan, the Sexual Behavior Treatment Remedial Plan, the Safety & Welfare Remedial Plan, and the Mental Health Remedial Plan.

The remedial plans are the result of the Farrell v. Cate lawsuit, which was initiated with a complaint slamming conditions in the juvenile justice system that was filed in state court in January 2003. An amended complaint was filed in September 2003. In February 2004, expert reports were filed that discuss in detail the many abuses faced by CYA wards:

Report on Disability Access and Programming
Report on Mental Health Care and Substance Abuse Treatment
Report on Health Care Services
Report on Education Programs
Report on Sex Offender Treatment Programs
Report on General Conditions(Safety, Use of Force, Segregation)

In January 2005 , California officials and the Prison Law Office reached an agreement on a schedule for reforming the juvenile justice system and creating a system that is rehabilitative and provides a therapeutic environment for juvenile offenders. Read the Press Release and Stipulation Regarding California Youth Authority Remedial Efforts here.

Under pressure from the Prison Law Office, California correctional officials agreed to bring in national experts to help design a new state rehabilitative juvenile justice system. The agreement is set forth in a Stipulation filed on December 1, 2005.

In April 2006, a team of national experts released a comprehensive Report describing the problems in California’s juvenile justice facilities as the result of a “broken” system that is both overly-expensive and ineffective. The report recommended various reforms, including a new management structure, and urged the state to focus efforts on reducing the level of violence in its youth facilities. Since then, the Special Master in the Farrell case has filed periodic reports detailing the changes in conditions for wards at Department of Juvenile Justice facilities:
• April 2006 First Quarterly Report
• June 2006 Second Quarterly Report and Appendices
• December 2006 Third Quarterly Report and Appendices
• July 2007 Fourth Quarterly Report with Appendices discussing Safety and Welfare, Mental Health, Part 1 and Part 2, Medical Care, Education, and Staffing, Part 1 and Part 2.
• October 2007 Fifth Quarterly Report, with Appendices on Safety and Welfare, Medical Care, Sex Offender Treatment and Disabilities
• January 2008 Sixth Quarterly Report
• April 2008 Seventh Quarterly Report
• February 2009 Eighth Quarterly Report with Appendices on Education (A), Disabilities (B) and Sex OffenderTreatment (C)
• September 2009 Ninth Quarterly Report, with appendices A-B, C and D, and E-F.
• November 2009 Tenth Quarterly Report, with appendices A-B, C D-G, and facility health care audits.
• November 2009 Eleventh Quarterly Report, with appendices A, B, C, D, E, F, G1-2, G3, G4-8, H and I.
• December 2009 Twelfth Quarterly Report, with appendices A and B.
• January 2010 Reports of site visits to DJJ facilities. Cover page and individual reports concerning: Preston, Central Office, OH Close, Chaderjian and Ventura.
• February 2010 Thirteenth Quarterly Report, with appendices A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
• February 2010 Fourteenth Quarterly Report, with appendices A, B, C, D, and E.
• July 2010 Fifteenth Quarterly Report

Parolee Rights

Valdivia v. Davis

A federal court found that that delays in the parole revocation process violated due process protections. (Valdivia v. Davis (E.D. 2002) 206 F.Supp.2d 1068.) As a result, the California Department of Corrections and Board of Prison Terms agreed to a stipulated permanent injunction to improve the timeliness of parole revocation proceedings. The Remedial Plan adopted under the injunction includes provisions for using alternative sanctions for minor parole violations, a probable cause hearing no more than 10 business days after a parolee is notified of charges, a revocation hearing no later than 35 days after a parole hold is placed, and appointment of attorneys to represent all parolees facing revocation proceedings.

Armstrong v. Davis (BPT):

A federal District Court judge issued an injunction, ordering the Board of Prison Terms to remedy its shocking and appalling failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during parole hearings. The order came after a trial during which one prisoner told of having to leave his wheelchair behind to crawl upstairs to a hearing, a deaf prisoner told the judge he was shackled during his hearing and could not communicate with the sign language interpreter, and a blind inmate said he was offered no help with complicated written materials. The injunction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (2001) 275 F.3d 849.

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Photo courtesy of Ruth Morgan

Photo courtesy of Ruth Morgan

Photo courtesy of Bob Gumpert

Photo courtesy of Bob Gumpert
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