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Fed judges order California to slash prison population

Intro, courtesy of Timothy D. Naegele:

"As the economic tsunami continues to take its toll globally, and as California suffers because of declining tax revenues and budgetary imbalances — which may spawn more crime, not less — the judges want to mandate that criminals are released.  Wow!"

Fed judges order California to slash prison population

By Mike Zapler in the Mercury News

SACRAMENTO — In a decision that could dramatically reshape California’s criminal justice system, a panel of federal judges on Tuesday ordered Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators to find ways to cut the prison population by 40,000, or about one-quarter of all inmates.

The ruling was a stark milestone in the years-long saga of two lawsuits charging that California allows inhumane conditions to fester in its prisons because of severe overcrowding. Law-and-order advocates say such cuts would result in inmates being returned to the streets early or being turned over to cash-strapped counties to jail. The Schwarzenegger administration signaled that it would likely appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three-judge panel gave the governor and lawmakers 45 days to present a plan to cut the inmate population from about 150,000 to 110,000 over two years. The judges delivered a stern message about conditions that are so poor in some prisons that they violate inmates’ constitutional rights.

"The medical and mental health care available to inmates in the California prison system is woefully and constitutionally inadequate, and has been for more than a decade," the judges wrote in a 184-page ruling. "Tragically, California’s inmates have long been denied even (a) minimal level of medical and mental health care, with consequences that have been serious, and often fatal. … A significant number of inmates have died as a result."

The judges described some prisons operating at nearly 300 percent of capacity, with inmates housed in triple bunk beds placed in gymnasiums and day rooms.

"In these overcrowded conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent, infectious diseases spread more easily, and lockdowns are sometimes the only means by which to maintain control," the judges wrote…

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