Judges: Calif. Must Free 43K Inmates in 2 Years

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 4, 2009 7:49 PM CDT
Inmates are seen in the exercise yard at California State Prison, Sacramento, in Folsom, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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(Newser) – California violates inmates' constitutional rights by cramming them into overcrowded and unhealthy prisons, three federal judges ruled today. They ordered the state to reduce its inmate population of 158,000 by 43,000 over two years, the Los Angeles Times reports. No word yet on whether California will appeal to the Supreme Court, but the ruling might actually mesh with various inmate-reduction proposals being floated to help the state's shaky finances.

The 185-page ruling amounts to a scathing indictment of the state's penitentiary system. Conditions are so bad, they actually foster recidivism, it says. The state now has nearly double the number of prisoners its system is designed to hold, with the overflow in converted sports facilities with triple-tier bunks. Prisoners are exposed to infectious diseases and health care is lacking, a combination that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, the judges said.