SCOTUS Affirms California Prisoner Release

The Supreme Court affirmed a lower federal court order that requires the state of California to sharply reduce its prison population over the next two years in order to bring the facilities up to constitutional compliance. 

The 5-4 decision, authored by Justice Kennedy mandates a prison population of no more than 110,000 inmates, down from approximately 143,000 when the suit was first filed.  At the height of the problems the California penal system averaged a death a week, and to emphasize the inhumane conditions at the jails Justice Kennedy took the unusual step of including photos of overcrowding, including pictures of cages where mentally ill inmates were held while they waited for a bed.

The ruling comes with efforts in the state to send fewer people to prison, either by reducing sentences for some offenders, offering alternative sentencing programs for others and giving judges more discretion in sentencing.

Yet it is that judicial discretion that came under fire by both Justices Scalia and Alito in their dissent.  Both argued that judges are ill-equipped to handle the kind of oversight this order provides for and, if left to their own discretion, will put the public safety at risk.

If the minority is concerned with judges’ running state penal systems, the obvious answer is to make sure our state legislatures appropriately fund our corrections system so that they can provide essential services such as basic health care without running the risk of violating fundamental constitutional protections.  Or perhaps they could urge those legislators to re-think failed criminal justice policies like imprisoning hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders to prevent the swelling of the prison populations to begin with.


photo courtesy of raipe via Flickr


Valerie r.
Valerie r4 years ago

My son has Bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies and is addicted to alcohol and drugs. He is not violent and is only in prison because he violated probation a few times (late for curfew, dirty urine). When he is on his meds, he is fine, but one of the problems with people who have Bipolar is they will start feeling good on meds and then they stop taking them because of feeling good. He is classic Bipolar and instead of help, he is serving 2 years in a Florida prison. Where is the help for kids like this??? He sure isn't getting the help he needs in prison. It's soo frustrating and keeps me up at night.

Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin6 years ago

There are electronic monitoring systems that can be used to control, punish and rehabilitate non-violent offenders. And the day when prisons no longer are a for-profit business, we may see some real efforts in decreasing the number of inmates. As long as coråorations make a huge profit of having overcrowded prisons and the judicial system are breaking down, then there will be no change. Maximum security prisons should be there for the worst of the worst, those that will never, ever be released!

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Agree with Doug.

Doug D.
Doug D6 years ago

The main reason for prisons now appears to be for some private company to make a ton of money, not protect the citizens....

Michael M.
Michael M6 years ago

US law is completely out of touch with reality. Sending pot smokers to prison is ludicrous . Those holier than thou morons who are sending pot smokers to jail should be shot !

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Wioletta S.
Wioletta S6 years ago


Claire M.
Claire M6 years ago

It might help if the courts were not so quick to lock people up with out thinking. Many people in these jails are not guilty of anything dangerous and should be doing other things to pay for their mistakes. This would leave more room for those that are truly dangerous and less likely we might release some who are a threat to citizens.

It seems like every time there is a large release though, somebody conveniently goofs up and a real monster gets turned loose, somebody gets hurt or killed by them and a new ToC crusade is launched just in time for somebodies election.

Jeffrey W.
Jeffrey W6 years ago

That's the difference between conservatives and leftists. Conservatives want to follow the constitution. The leftists want felons to roam among the populace to commit murder and mayhem.

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago

noted with thanks.