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Supreme Court Rejects CA Challenge to Prison Reform Plan

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By Kamika Dunlap on January 22, 2010 11:45 AM

This week the US Supreme Court rejected California's challenge to a preliminary court order forcing the state to come up with a plan to reduce its prison population.

The preliminary order came after years of litigation, lack of response to court ordered improvements, and findings that conditions in California prisons which violate the Constitution stem from enormous overcrowding.

According to the Associated Press, the high court said it will not disturb the inmate-release order from a three-judge federal panel and will await the state's appeal of the final order.

The final order came down last week. Unlike the preliminary order, which mandated that the state make a plan on how to adequately reduce prison population, the final order mandates that the reduction in prison overcrowding actually happens.

The Schwarzenegger administration is planning to appeal the final order.  As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, the state reluctantly submitted a plan to the three judge panel, but will continue to challenge the legal validity of the panel itself and the extent of its power to order changes in California prisons. 

At issue is whether the California judicial panel exceeded its authority in ordering the prison cuts. As previously discussed, three judges ordered California to cut its prison population by over 40,000 in the next two years. The first step, and subject of the panel's preliminary order, was for the state to come up with a plan for how the population reduction could be accomplished.

The head of California's Department of Corrections said that the state would appeal any final ruling requiring the release of over 40,000 inmates.

What caused California's inability to make its prisons offer even the bare minimum medical and mental health care? Overcrowding, according to the decision that lead to the three judge panel's preliminary order.

Since the mid 1970's, California's prison population went from about 20,000 to over 160,000 in 2006. That's an increase of over 750%.

Since then, California's prisons have operated at around double their intended capacity (with some at almost triple capacity).

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