US Supreme Court Rules California Must Proceed with Release of 10,000 Prisoners
The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that California must proceed with the release thousands of prisoners, rejecting a request by the governor’s office to delay a federal order to cut the state’s inmate population by 10,000.
The San Jose Mercury News reports the court’s split decision has stoked fears of thousands of dangerous criminals walking free, although according to the Sacramento Bee, state prison officials are preparing to implement an early parole program for sick and elderly inmates, as well as prisoners who may be eligible for good behavior credits.
In a ruling by Anthony Kennedy, the justices refused to grant California a reprieve from the federal court-ordered prisoner release. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that conditions in the state’s prisons violated the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
In that 5-4 ruling, Kennedy, so often the Court’s swing vote, cited ‘cruel and unusual’ conditions in California prisons, including as many as 700 inmates waiting to see a doctor, 54 prisoners using one toilet and suicidal men being held for extended periods in cages the size of telephone booths.
Extreme measures were necessary, Kennedy wrote, in order to prevent “needless suffering and death.”
In the Court’s most recent ruling, three justices– Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas– dissented, voting in favor of delaying the prisoner release. Scalia called the court order a “terrible injunction.”
“California must release upon the public nearly 10,000 inmates convicted of serious crimes,” wrote Alito, “about 1,000 for every city larger than Santa Ana.”
The dissenters accepted California’s assertion that the state has “made meaningful progress” in relieving severe overcrowding in its 34 prisons, eliminating the need for additional releases. The federal court order mandated that the state prison population be reduced by the end of 2013 to 137.5 percent of capacity. Prisons that were meant to house 80,000 inmates were packed with around 145,000 in 2011. The district court judges who ordered the reduction noted that overcrowding threatens inmates’ physical and mental wellbeing.
California has already released some 37,000 inmates.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) currently houses more than 9,000 prisoners in out-of-state facilities. CDRC officials are also considering contracting with county jails to house additional inmates, the Bee reports.
The California Police Chiefs Association released a statement on Friday expressing its “dismay” at the Supreme Court decision. The justices “decided to place convicted criminals’ concerns over the safety of California’s communities and citizens,” wrote CPCA president and Covina Police Chief Kim Raney.
The Brown administration says it will “finalize” an early release program in about 15 days, the Bee reports.
The Supreme Court ruling comes amid an ongoing large-scale hunger strike by inmates at numerous California prisons. Prisoners have listed ‘five core demands’: an end to long-term solitary confinement, a form of torture; nutritious food, an end to collective punishment and administrative abuse, abolition of a debriefing policy by which inmates are released from solitary confinement in return for ‘snitching,’ and an expansion of constructive programming and privileges.
Tagged California Police Chiefs Association, California prison hunger strike, California prisoner release, CDCR, Justice Anthony Kennedy, justice antonin scalia, justice samuel alito, Kim Raney, prison overcrowding, Supreme Court