California Cites ‘Massive Prisoner Release’ in Supreme Court Appeal

fenced prisoners

Inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City last year use the prison yard. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)

California lawyers late Friday filed the state’s full appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to set aside orders to reduce prison crowding by the end of December.

Despite the state’s contention that it intends to meet the prison population cap by leasing added prison space, the appeal raises the public safety threat of “a massive prisoner release.”

The appeal cites the great progress the state has made in improving medical and mental health care of inmates. It says the three federal judges who in June issued the current prison population reduction order showed a “conspicuous insensitivity” to the powers Congress tried to give states when dealing with court orders to release inmates.

“The record is bereft of any evidence that releasing these inmates would enable the State to provide a constitutionally sufficient level of medical and mental health care that it is not already providing, or could not provide, through other means,” the state’s lawyers write.

paige-st-johnIf the Supreme Court agrees to take up the appeal, it may not be heard until next year, well after the deadline set by a panel of three federal judges. They have ordered California’s prison population reduced to 137.5% of what the state’s prisons were designed to hold. The state’s most recent projections showed California would be 9,600 inmates over that level.

This is the second time California has asked the Supreme Court to overturn a prison population cap set by the judicial panel. Justices rejected the first appeal in 2011 on a 5-4 decision. Most recently, on a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court refused to put the prison reduction order on hold while California makes its appeal.

Paige St. John
Los Angeles Times

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About Paige St. John

Paige St. John has been a working journalist for more than three decades, covering politics, the environment and natural disasters. She currently works in Sacramento, Calif., for the Los Angeles Times, covering the criminal justice system.