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Judges order state to release nearly 43,000 prisoners in next two years [Updated]

California’s prisons are so overcrowded that the state is violating inmates’ constitutional rights, three federal judges ruled today in a decision imposing a cap on the prison population that will force the state to release nearly 43,000 prisoners over the next two years.

The 185-page opinion also accused the state of fostering “criminogenic” conditions, compelling former prisoners to commit more crimes and feed a cycle of recidivism.

The effect of the judges’ ruling in two inmate challenges to their conditions dovetails with early-release proposals aired during last month’s heated budget debate in the state Legislature as lawmakers sought to close a $26.3-billion deficit.

The ruling by three federal judges stems from challenges by two inmates alleging that the state’s network of 33 prisons is so overcrowded that they are denied adequate health care and treatment of mental illnesses.

California’s prisons, designed to hold 84,000 inmates, house 158,000, much of the overflow contained in converted sports facilities arrayed with triple-tier bunks.  That exposes prisoners to infectious diseases, the lawsuits alleged, constituting cruel and unusual punishment in a system suffering a shortage of doctors, nurses and technicians.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson seized oversight of the prison healthcare network in 2006 and put a court-appointed receiver in place to carry out a thorough reform of the system, in which inmates were dying of curable or avoidable conditions at the rate of one a week. The current receiver, Clark Kelso, said in a recent interview that his staff was making progress in upgrading antiquated medical records-keeping and medication-dispensing, but that the fruits of those projects remained at least a year away.

In late July, during the heated debate over how to close a $26.3-billion shortfall in the state budget, California lawmakers passed $1.2 billion in cuts to the state prison system that envisioned some early releases of inmates. But they put off deciding specific details amid harsh resistance by law-and-order advocates who fear any mass release of prisoners would endanger public safety.

In a preliminary ruling issued by the three judges in February, the state was advised to reduce the prison population by about a third, meaning as many as 57,000 inmates would have to be moved out of the state facilities over a two- to three-year period.

Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown denounced the earlier ruling as “the latest intrusion” of the federal courts into the state’s affairs, and he is expected to appeal today’s ruling.

[Updated at 3:38 p.m.: Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. Jim Humes said the office was “still digesting” the decision and state lawyers were discussing with the governor’s office how to comply with the judges’ order for a plan to be produced within the next 45 days to achieve the prison population reduction target.

“This order doesn’t release anybody from prison, it just orders the state to come up with a plan,” Humes said of the judges’ ruling. “We have no immediate plans to appeal this particular order, but there would definitely be thought given to appeal any order that would ultimately order releases.”]

--Carol J. Williams

Comments () | Archives (30)

We want huge numbers of people in jail, we just don't want to pay for it. Again, the massive disconnect between
wanting and paying so endemic across American society.

Good. It is unacceptable to have prisons that are worse than those in third world countries.

Great, as if there isn't enough murders, rapes and criminal activity already.

As much as some people despise it, this here is the United States of America and the Constitution is our foundation. Without it, we are not a country.

OK, how about a plan to release non-violent offenders first?

Then release Leslie Van Houten!

at last.... a small ray of hope in this long hot summer.... even a cool drink of water would be welcome!

Great so more men like the one who killed Lily Burke last week can run free. We're all going to feel like we are walking through land mines!

So inmates have to deal with triple tier bunks and a shortage of doctors? It sounds just like the navy to me.

So, as a taxpayer and law abiding citizen who votes, I'd like to ask: Who appointed these federal judges? Bush? Clinton?

We the people will be the ones to suffer. Why can't the gov't use some common sense and find another way to house these inmates? What is so difficult about quickly erecting some barracks out in the desert surrounded by barb wired?

I'd like to see names and criminal records posted of these creeps who are getting released early. Could the media or the gov't at least provide us w/ that information? Looks like we the people will have to take to the streets and really put pressure on our gov't to do the right thing. That is, keep inmates locked up until they've done their time. Period.

At last..... some hope in this long hot summer. This is great news for those of us with loved ones suffering behind bars .... just give them a cool drink of water!

Henderson came out of retirement to run this mess & he's doin' all he can to milk it...so expect the appeals to go on for years (more). Sure, it's a three judge panel...so what?

As long as the guards union continues to run the runs the prisons with their policy of keeping them locked up so they can hire more guards and receive overtime nothing is going to change. The whole system is corrupt from top to bottom and the legislators let them have free reign. They could let half the prison population out tomorrow and there would be no appreciable rise in crime.

Mr. Brown is right, that states rights does supersede the federal government. See article 10 of the constitution. I guess if the state started using the death penalty, about 50 or 60 times a month, the crime rate would DRAMATICALLY come down, and there would be more than enough room to house more bad guys. Get with it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!..

Deport illegals in our prisons immediately--no release. period. breaking up families this way? good. if the california prison system is 'crimogenic' (who got a grant to come up with THAT term?) so are thousands of familias throughout the state.

A significant percentage of California's prison inmate population happen to be incarcerated because of convictions for non-violent drug convictions. And many of these are not for selling drugs,but for simple possession or abuse. California's budget crisis, and the need to release prisoners because of this crisis, will hopefully be a lesson to other states. It is not only morally wrong but financially irresponsible for states to incarcerate drug offenders. I hope most of the 43,000 released are those of the non-violent variety. It would be crazy to release violent felons, but it was also crazy to lock up people for simple possession in the first place. Let's hope we are seeing the first stages to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex.

The Republican administration and the CDCr have been trying to ignore the order of release from the Judges Panel since last February if not longer. The judges told them that if they didn't get it done the judges would step in and do it and that's what they have done. First we must release all the elderly/disabled prisoners who qualify under AB 1539 and then release those reincarcerated due to technical violations. Change the residency restrictions so that parolees can live where they have educational, vocational and employment opportunities availble in addition to medical services, a safe place to live. If all this is done the prison population would be reduced. Don't all of you lock them up and throw the key away folks realize that California can not afford to do that? It is much cheaper in the long run to release the sick and elderly to their families to care for them . The proposal is not to release people who have committed heinous crimes on parole; It is to release inmates to community based programs instead of reincarcerating them due to technical violations. I guess the bottom line is does the Administration in Sacramento want to do something positive or keep on their same course and continue to bankrupt our state?

And the "secular progressives" say that society naturally gets better on its own! We'll see how these 43,00 cons better our society!!!!

The answer is to outsource the thugs to overseas prisons. Build at least one prison on every continent as a joint venture with the local government and then outsource the work of maintaining the prisons to the locals. Overcrowding solved. Healthcare solved. Operation costs solved. And we could afford to permanently incarcerate the really bad guys like the ten time loser who murdered Burk. A win-win-win-win for all of California.

So what's the hold-up?

All those secure laws we create have consequences. All the convictions have consequences. Is everyone prepared to pay for housing these numb nuts. Numb nuts cant find jobs and they rob again. Nuts will eventually fall on your head and get you eventually. Focus on the hard offenders. Legalize marijuana usage (not crack). Legalize prostitution.

What a mess.

Releasing some inmates early is not totally a bad idea. Having once spent a short stint in prison for a truly stupid lapse of judgment on my part, I was able to make an eye opening observation. I saw some men who made a mistake early in their lives and are paying the price for their decisions. But after serving many years and having matured since and becoming better people they are doomed to a life in prison with virtually no hope of ever demonstrating their rehabilitation. Instead, other violent offenders (gangsters in particular) know they will get out soon only to return to their old ways. This is truly the shameful part of the whole picture. I think a real revision of each case is needed and the really changed and remorsful inmates should be given a chance to prove themselves to make a contribution to society. I don't know, just an observation from a person who will never ever offend again.

Has anyone bothered to look at all the corrupt and greedy people who are walking the streets outside of prison...aren't you scared of them? I would be....they can do more damage at the drop of a hat than you can possibly imagine. I hardly think 44,000 prisioners out on the streets is going to affect our lives that drastically....I'm more concerned about the people who are running our banking and credit system....

to Lisa,
Murderers and rapists would not be released, only people with only a few months to go would be eligible and then only nonviolent offenders. The man who killed burk wasn't supposed to be released, it was a clerical error by the prison staff. They knew he was a serious threat, I can't believe they let it slip through like that. The timing couldn't have been better for squashing early release plans so they keep making hundreds a day to babysit.

thank you, eric. you nailed it. the ignorant incarceration happy public fails to see the point: they all have "quick-fix" recommendations but have no clue what it requires to expedite such recommendations. they then blame those who do to *magically* make it happen. the fear-fueled, incarceration-happy fools created the overcrowding problem. they are the emotionally-driven and uneducated voters who jump on the cops' bandwagon campaign to warrant incarceration as a solution...and now we see where THAT'S gotten us. yet, their heads are STILL in the sand. we should be incarcerating THEM, along with the police for creating this problem instead of the convicts for making incarceration a billion dollar business and vacuum of tax-payers' money!

bruno, and everyone like you: get your head out. farming out inmates to other facilities in other parts of the country and building MORE PRISONS is like spreading a cancer instead of cutting it completely out! you can build prisons to your heart's content...then what? you'll be crying the next day just the same complaining you now live too close to a prison and demand it be moved. like i said, YOU morons are the problem, not necessarily the system. it's you people who give the system permission and temper tantrums to implement the most absurd "remedies" that only create bigger problems for everyone else in the long-run. it's easy to now see how your kind represents much of the jury panels who help convict and send just about everyone accused to prison daily. everybody's guilty and the cops are just 100% right about who they accuse every time. are you kidding me?

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