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U.S: Supreme Court orders California to release tens of thousands of prison inmates

24th May 2011

The state of California has been ordered to release up to 46,000 inmates from its prisons to alleviate the crisis of overcrowding which has led to "needless suffering and death", according to the Los Angeles Times.

The article highlights that Californian prisons are housing 32,000 more prisoners than it has capacity for and must cut its population to 110,000 inmates in order to comply with constitutional standards. 

Speaking for the majority (which was 5-4), Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said that the overcrowding situation had meant that Californian prisons had "fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements."

In a separate article from the Los Angeles Times, Justice Kennedy highlighted:

 "...suicidal prisoners being held in "telephone booth-sized cages without toilets" and others, sick with cancer or in severe pain, who died before being seen by a doctor. As many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, and as many as 54 may share a single toilet."

The ruling was met with some objection from the other deciding judges, insisting that the decision will mean that "terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order."

The order was welcomed by prisoners rights group the American Civil Liberties Union which stated that: "reducing the number of people in prison not only would save the state taxpayers half a billion annually, it would lead to the implementation of truly rehabilitative programs that lower recidivism rates and create safer communities."

Read more:

  • Read the full article from the Los Angeles Times here.
  • Read an additional article from the Los Angeles Times here.
  • Photos which demonstrate the extent of prison overcrowding can be accessed here.
  • Read an article in the New York Times here.