State ordered to shrink prison population by 44,000 inmates

Posted on August 4, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The Crime Victims Action Alliance is appalled, but not surprised, at the ruling handed down by the three judge  panel.  CVAA is relieved that at least it is out of the hands of these anti-public safety judges as the matter now moves on to the Supreme Court.

dwalsh@sacbee.com

Published Tuesday, Aug. 04, 2009

In a historic move, a panel of three federal judges today ordered the state of California to reduce its prison population by more than 44,000 inmates in the next two years.

The order, which will not result in the immediate release of any of the state’s 160,000 inmates, almost certainly will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the first time the high court will have faced such a case.

California’s prison system is operating at 190 percent of its design capacity of 84,210 inmates, and the judges said the state must devise an inmate reduction plan within 45 days unless a stay is ordered to allow an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the population growth has brought California’s prisons to the breaking point,” the judges’ 184-page order said.

The judges added that “federal courts do not intervene in state affairs lightly,” but that conditions in California’s prisons have become “horrific” in some cases.

“…(T)he rights of California’s prisoners have repeatedly been ignored,” the judges wrote. “Where the political process has utterly failed to protect the constitutional rights of a minority, the courts can, and must, vindicate those rights.”

The order stems from suits filed against the state by various groups, including the Prison Law Office in Berkeley, alleging overcrowding has led to unconstitutional medical and mental health care.

Donald Specter, chief attorney for the law office, called the order “a landmark ruling and historic day in prison litigation in this state and in the country.”

“The court’s order will now require what virtually every expert and even the state itself has recognized for 15 years,” he said. “It can be done safely, thoughtfully and without any adverse impact on our state.”

The order comes as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is seeking to reduce the prison population by 27,000 to save $1.2 billion in costs, but the plan is being attacked by crime victims’ groups angry at the prospect of such a reduction.

Corrections officials are planning a 3:30 p.m. press conference to discuss the order.

“We are reading the ruling right now to see what our options are,” department spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said.

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