Supreme Court Denies Brown’s Request To Delay Inmate Releases
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
In April, a panel of federal judges rejected Brown's request to end a court-mandated prison population cap. The judges ruled that the cap is necessary to address substandard conditions that have resulted in unconstitutionally poor inmate care.
On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the population cap.
In June, three federal judges rejected the plan, ordering Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.
The judges said that the state can use any method under its original plan to reduce the inmate population, but they suggested expanding the use of good behavior credits to expedite prisoner releases.
If the state does not comply with the order by the end of the year, officials will have to release inmates based on a list of "low-risk" offenders, according to the judges.
In July, Brown filed a request with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for a stay of the order (California Healthline, 7/30).
The filing stated that the "court's latest orders will require the release of inmates ... [who] pose a substantial risk of committing new and violent crimes" (California Healthline, 7/11).
Details of Supreme Court Decision
On Friday, the Supreme Court Justices issued a 6-3 ruling rejecting Brown's request with no comment from the majority, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that California "must now release upon the public nearly 10,000 inmates convicted of serious crimes -- about 1,000 for every city larger than Santa Ana" (Halper/St. John, Los Angeles Times, 8/2).
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito also indicated that they favored granting a stay of the order (Siders, Sacramento Bee, 8/3).
Jeffrey Callison -- spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- said the state will continue to prepare a Supreme Court appeal of the initial prisoner release order.
He said, "In terms of complying with the order in the meantime, it's our position that it would endanger public safety and be expensive."
He said that CDCR is reviewing several strategies to reduce prison populations, including:
- Transferring inmates to in-state private facilities; and
- Leasing holding space from county jails (Reuters, 8/2).
Prisoner Advocate's Reaction
Donald Spector -- an attorney with the Prison Law Office -- said the state has "finally run out of legal avenues to try to stall the ultimate remedy" of prison overcrowding.
"They can press on with their appeal, but the odds don't look very good," Spector added (Sacramento Bee, 8/3).
Headlines and links to broadcast coverage of the Supreme Court's decision are provided below.
- "US Supreme Court Refuses To Delay Release of Thousands of California Inmates" (Orr, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 8/2).
- "US Supreme Court Rejects California Gov. Brown's Request to Halt State Prison Releases" (Small, "Represent!" KPCC, 8/2).