Criminal Justice

California ordered to cut inmate population by 10,000 by the end of the year

A panel of federal judges has ordered California officials to come up with a plan to reduce the state’s overcrowded prison population by about 10,000 inmates by the end of the year.

The three-judge panel, which has already held that the state’s overcrowded prison system violates inmates’ constitutional rights, also threatened to hold Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials in contempt if they fail to “immediately take all steps necessary” to comply with the court’s order, the Sacramento Bee and Reuters report.

“The history of this litigation is of defendants’ repeated failure to take the necessary steps to remedy the constitutional violations in its prison system,” the three-judge panel said in Thursday’s ruling (PDF). “We are compelled to enforce the federal Constitution and to enforce the constitutional rights of all persons, including prisoners.”

Brown’s office issued a one-line response to the ruling saying it would seek an immediate stay of “this unprecedented order.”

The ruling stemmed from a class action lawsuit accusing the state of failing to provide prisoners with adequate health care. That litigation led to a 2009 ruling by the same panel that prison overcrowding violated inmates’ constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. It ordered the state to reduce the prison system’s inmate population to 137.5 percent of its capacity, which Don Specter, a lawyer for the inmates, told Reuters would mean cutting the current inmate population by about 10,000 prisoners.

The panel’s ruling was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year rebuffed a request by Brown to vacate its 2009 order.

Specter said Thursday’s ruling “is absolutely essential in order for prisoners to be safe and to get adequate health care.”

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