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Prison overcrowding: Supreme Court won't delay inmate release

August 2, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to grant Governor Jerry Brown's request to stop the early release of thousands of California inmates due to prison overcrowding.

Despite pleas from Governor Brown that California's prison population cannot be reduced any further without letting out dangerous felons, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop an early-release order to ease overcrowding.

The ruling in the decades-old case is a victory for inmates who claim health care behind bars fails to meet Constitutional standards, causing needless suffering and death.

"The overcrowding still stands in the way of an effective remedy for the medical and mental health problems that plague California," said Michael Bien, an attorney for inmates.

California has already reduced its prison population by 46,000 since 2006. But the courts have continually said that's not enough. The state needs to reduce another 10,000 in less than five months.

Governor Brown is really out of legal options at this point. He risks contempt of court charges if he doesn't comply by the end of the year.

The Corrections Department confirms preparations have begun to meet the reduction.

Thirty inmates from the women's prison in Chowchilla have been identified as eligible for medical parole, along with more than 800 men throughout the system.

Contracts with out-of-state prisons have been extended and sentences are being recalculated for those with good-time credit and completion of rehabilitation programs.

Crime victims groups are worried. While crime rates are still at historic lows, the numbers were slightly up for 2012.

"Unfortunately, the state has already shifted those who they consider low-risk inmates to the counties," said Christine Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. "And now all that's left are your most serious and violent criminals in our state prisons."

The Legislature has until mid-September to pass laws or approve funding that enables the state to further cut the prison population.

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