Resource: Prison Overcrowding and Brown v. Plata

By: Marie Gottschalk

June 8, 2011

Today the United States is the world’s warden, incarcerating more people than any other country. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, it has 25 percent of its prisoners. Since the 1970s, the United States has built the largest penal system in the world to accommodate a sixfold increase in its inmate population. But what happens behind its prison walls generally remains far removed from public consciousness. In this context, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Plata last month, which declared that the degrading and inhumane conditions in California’s grossly overcrowded prisons are unconstitutional, was an exceptional moment when the prison wall was briefly breached.