U.S. Supreme Court orders California to release prisoners for overcrowding

08:31, May 24, 2011      

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered California to release tens of thousands of its prisoners to relieve overcrowding.

"Needless suffering and death" had resulted from putting too many inmates into facilities that cannot hold them in decent conditions, the Supreme Court said.

The 5-4 decision represents one of the largest prison release orders in U.S. history, The Los Angeles Times said.

Justices upheld an order from a three-judge panel in California that called for releasing 38,000 to 46,000 prisoners, the report said.

California has transferred about 9,000 state inmates to county jails. As a result, the total prison population is now about 32, 000 more than the capacity limit set by the panel, according to the report.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said California's prisons had " fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements" because of overcrowding.

As many as 200 prisoners may live in gymnasium and as many as 54 prisoners share a single toilet, he said.

Kennedy insisted that the state had no choice but to release more prisoners. The justices, however, agreed that California officials should be given more time to make the needed reductions.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who opposed the ruling, said the decision was "staggering" and "absurd."

He said the high court had repeatedly overruled the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for ordering the release of individual prisoners. Now, he said, the majority were ordering the release of "46,000 happy-go-lucky felons."

"Terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order," he said in remarks published by The Times.

In a separate dissent, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said the ruling conflicted with a federal law intended to limit the power of federal judges to order a release of prisoners.

California has about 142,000 inmates behind bars, according to recent figures from the state.

It is calculated that the prison population would need to be reduced to about 110,000 to comply with constitutional standards.

Source: Xinhua
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