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Two recent decisions, one given by the Supreme Court of the United States of America and one of the Irish High Court, address the consequences of overcrowding in prisons. In Brown, Governor of California et at v. Plata et al1 (hereinafter Plata) the US Supreme Court upheld a decision of a three judge federal court requiring the State of California to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of the prison system’s design capacity, requiring the release of up to 46,000 prisoners. The Court agreed that the overcrowding in the Californian prison system had caused the breach of prisoners’ rights under the Eighth Amendment. In Kinsella v. Governor of Mountjoy Prison2 (hereinafter Kinsella), Hogan J held that a prisoner’s right to bodily integrity was also breached by the conditions of his detention, but stopped short of ordering his release under Article 40.4. This piece examines the decisions in Plata and Kinsella. Though the outcomes were different, the cases share some interesting similarities regarding the effects of overcrowding, with both courts required to deal with the difficulties occasioned by becoming involved in the administration of prisons. The points of difference between the judgments are also revealing. The remedies available to both courts are strikingly different as is the analysis of when prisoners’ rights have been breached.
Rogan, M. Dealing with overcrowding in prisons: contrasting judicial approaches from the USA and Ireland. Irish jurist, 47, 2012.