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U.S. Supreme Court Refuses California to Delay Measures on Overcrowded Prisons
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld without comment a lower court order that requires California to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of its capacity, or release excess prisoners by December 31. California has the nation’s largest state prison system, a veritable industry, with 33 prisons housing 119,300 inmates, almost 46 percent more than the prisons were intended to house.
The nine-member Supreme Court did not make any official public vote on California’s latest petition to stay the order of the lower court, but three justices, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, recorded that they were in favor of granting a stay. However, six other justices, the majority, denied the request, despite California contending that the release of more than 9,500 prisoners would constitute a significant public safety concern.
At the same time the largest hunger strike is taking place across California prisons, against inhuman conditions and against prison gangs controlling who gets solitary confinement. Thousands of inmates are protesting unhygienic conditions and neglect.
State officials have denied the allegations of the inmates who are on hunger strike and have said some prisoners have cell mates and are also allowed access to a law library.
Currently, prison medical care is under supervision of a court-appointed federal receiver and mental healthcare is under a special master as a result of court cases.
Three appellate judges, after long litigation, had ruled in 2009 that prisons in California may be allowed to exceed their capacity, providing a cap on that excess. However, the authorities continued to flout the cap set by the court.
With the state keeping on dragging its feet over the housing of prisoners, twice the judges threatened the Governor with contempt of court. However, the prison industry in California seems reluctant to give up on its prison labor resources.
In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that the state needed to follow the lower court’s order and reduce overcrowding in prisons. However, the state authorities managed to keep dragging their feet and litigating.
On Friday, their last petition to have a stay on reducing prison population was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.