Supreme Court: California Must Release 46K Inmates

Upholds federal panel's decision on poor prison conditions
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2011 11:41 AM CDT
Supreme Court: California Must Release 46K Inmates
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 14, 2011.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court has upheld a panel’s order that California release 46,000 inmates over the next two years to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. In 2009, a three-judge panel called on the state to reduce its prison population to 137% of capacity; overcrowding was resulting in poor medical care for inmates, which violated the Constitution, the panel said. The high court was faced with the question of whether the panel had the authority to issue such an order regarding state prisoners.

The court’s opinion, supported by the liberal justices, was written by Anthony Kennedy. It said the prisons were “short of minimum constitutional requirements,” leading to “needless suffering and death.” The result: More than a quarter of the state's prisoners will be released. In the dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia called the decision “staggering,” saying it “takes the federal courts wildly beyond their institutional capacity,” the Los Angeles Times reports. (Read more US Supreme Court stories.)

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