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Supreme Court Rules California Must Release 46K Prisoners

Photo by Tim Pearce, Los Gatos via Flickr
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California can stall no more, says the Supreme Court today, in a 5-4 ruling that affirms the state's proposed prisoner release plan is among the actions needed to address the system's overcrowding, according to the Sacramento Bee. The court believes that conditions in California prisons reflect "serious constitutional violations," which must be tended to expediently.

Those violations represent what the court hails as "cruel and unusual punishment." Among the troubled conditions cited were the prison system's medical and mental health care, as well as they physical overcrowding.

As part of the ruling, California must release 46,000 prisoners over a period of two years, which was the plan crafted by a prior three-judge panel, and which was the plan today's Supreme Court ruling upheld. State officials have been scrambling for a solution in the interim, asking for more time to find alternatives to a release. Notes the Sacramento Bee, "Alternatives include transferring some to other jurisdictions, diverting nonviolent inmates to jails and reforming parole so that fewer violators are returned to prison."

Justice Antonin Scalia, in his dissenting opinion, called the ruling affirming the planned inmate release 'perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history." Notes Justice Samuel Alito in his dissenting opinion: "I fear that today's decision, like prior prisoner release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims." Alito's concerns today echo concerns from 2010, when then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass pitched an early-release program aimed at saving the state $1 billion.

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The decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, is viewable via the LA Times.