Moral Low Ground

US Government

US Supreme Court Rules California Must Proceed with Release of 10,000 Prisoners

(Photo: California Dep't of Corrections)

(Photo: California Dep’t of Corrections)

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.

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One Comment

  1. wildAugust 4, 2013 at 3:21 pmReply

    It is not strange that the California Police Chiefs Association’s (leadership management organization) “extremely disappointed” & the dissenters of the Supreme Court ruling, which seems to support the prison system as bad as it was and is.

    It is not strange that the California Police Chiefs Association has framed the familiar argument (used extensively during the GWBush/Schwartzenegger regime in this country that of ‘be afraid, be very afraid’) ,” the Court majority apparently decided to place convicted criminals’ concerns over the safety of California’s communities and citizen” rather than basing their argument in the reality that the existing government has intentionally chosen the cheap version of over crowded cruelty over the more expensive option of respect to the law and rules of humane confinement.

    The ‘system’ has failed, and instead of investigating the systemic ongoing ripoff in the leadership positions of the government, the California Police Chiefs Association would rather blame the convict overpopulation as ‘the problem’, the reality is there has always been more than enough money for the government to properly administer the prison system.

    I too am extremely disappointed… not in the over population of the prison system but the failed administration of it. And now the extreme disappointment extends to the government inspired extortion of the public with tactics like forced over crowding and intentional underfunding…this is their M.O.


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