Lyle Denniston of has posted a recap of this week’s “rowdy” (his word) oral argument in Schwarzennegger v. Plata.  You can access the Court’s transcript of the argument here.

The facts of the case are extremely complicated, but SCOTUSblog describes the essential issue in the case to be whether “a court order requiring California to reduce its prison population to remedy unconstitutional conditions in its correctional facilities violate[s] the Prison Litigation Reform Act.”  The federal courts have seen some epic battles over prison conditions, and this one is the latest.  In No Escape: The Future of American Corrections, John J. DiIulio, Jr. wrote that judicial interventions in prisons have yielded mixed results: “For every instance where a judge’s involvement led to a clear improvement in conditions, there is one where it clearly made things worse.”

The combination of California’s “three-strikes” law swelling the prison population and the state’s abysmal financial decisions (which have left it with insufficient funds to manage a large prison population) probably made this particular case inevitable.  It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court handles the issue and to read exactly what it feels is the constitutionally proper role for federal courts in prison administration.