No. 100: Capitol Weekly’s Top 100

Illustration by Chris Shary

100. Thelton Henderson

When U.S. District Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson retired this month, he left a mark on California government that can be matched by few, if any, individuals. Henderson was the prime mover in reducing California’s prison population. In a ruling upheld by the U.S Supreme Court, Henderson found in 2011 that California’s overcrowded prisons violated the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment and prevented the state from providing adequate health care. The judge took the unprecedented step of putting the prison health system under his supervision. When the case was filed a decade earlier, California prisons housed 156,000 inmates, twice the designed capacity. An inmate was dying every six days. Today, that population is 118,000, though not all the reduction came from Henderson’s order. Governors appealed, legislators warned of a crime wave, the prison guards union tried to intimidate him, but he endured and the crime rate fell.

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