California Has to Set Some Prisoners Free

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Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California's prisons are so overcrowded that the Supreme Court ordered that the state release at least 30,000 prisoners, claiming that the current prison population constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" and violates the Eighth Amendment. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the five-to-four decision on Brown v. Plata, No. 09-1233, saying that overcrowded prisons caused "needless suffering and death." The justices considered prisoners kept in "gymnasium-style rooms" and "telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets," and noted that the suicide rate in California's correctional facilities has been 80 percent higher than the nationwide average. According to a lower court's analysis of the case, it is an "uncontested fact" that "an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six or seven days due to constitutional deficiencies.” Said Justice Kennedy in his decision, there is “no realistic possibility that California would be able to build itself out of this crisis” in light of the state's budget problems.

Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population [NYT]