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Supreme Court OKs Early Release Plan For Calif. Inmates

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Despite warnings from California officials, the nation's highest court is refusing to delay the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by year's end to ease overcrowding at 33 adult prisons.

Prisoners lay on their bunks at California State Prison in Los Angeles County...
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Above: Prisoners lay on their bunks at California State Prison in Los Angeles County, located in the city of Lancaster. (Eds. note: The Department of Corrections said it no longer uses triple bunks in its facilities.)

In its decision Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed an emergency request by the Gov. Jerry Brown to halt a lower court's directive for the early release.

Law enforcement officials expressed concern about the ruling.

The justices ignored efforts already under way to reduce prison populations and "chose instead to allow for the release of more felons into already overburdened communities," said Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Brown's office referred a request for comment to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where Secretary Jeff Beard vowed that the state would press on with a still-pending appeal in hope of preventing the releases.

A panel of three federal judges had previously ordered the state to cut its prison population by nearly 8 percent to roughly 110,000 inmates by Dec. 31 to avoid conditions amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. That panel, responding to decades of lawsuits filed by inmates, repeatedly ordered early releases after finding inmates were needlessly dying and suffering because of inadequate medical and mental health care caused by overcrowding.

Court-appointed experts found that the prison system had a suicide rate that worsened last year to 24 per 100,000 inmates, far exceeding the national average of 16 suicides per 100,000 inmates in state prisons.

Brown had appealed the latest decision of the panel and, separately, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to cancel the early release order while considering his arguments that the state is making significant progress in improving conditions. The high court refused Friday to stop the release but did not rule on the appeal itself. Corrections Secretary Beard said the state would press on with that, so the "merits of the case can be considered without delay."

However, inmate lawyer Don Specter, head of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, said the ruling Friday did not bode well for the overall appeal. He said the decision underscores what inmates have been arguing for years.

"The conditions are still overcrowded," he said. "The medical and health care remain abysmal."

Lawyers representing Brown had argued to the high court that releasing 10,000 more inmates would mean letting violent criminals out on the streets and overwhelm the abilities of law enforcement and social services to monitor them.

"No data suggests that a sudden release of inmates with these characteristics can be done safely," the state said in its filing. "No state has ever done it."

The panel of federal judges has consistently rejected that argument. The judges, prisoners' lawyers and others say other states have marginally reduced inmate sentences without sparking an increase in crime.

The governor said the state has already transferred thousands of low-level and nonviolent offenders to county jails, but that local officials in turn have been forced into releasing some inmates early to ease their own overcrowding issues.

The Supreme Court's ruling rejected Brown's plea over the objections of Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who all said they would have granted the state's request.

Scalia, in a dissent joined by Thomas, wrote that the previous order by the three-judge panel was a "terrible injunction" that threatens public safety. Scalia said the state's evidence shows it has made meaningful progress and that such reductions in the inmate population are no longer necessary.

The legal battle goes back years. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that California had to cut its inmate population to deal with unconstitutional prison conditions caused by overcrowding. It said that further delay in reducing prison overcrowding would further the substandard delivery of medical and mental health care and, by extension, lead to more inmate deaths and injuries.

In recent years, the special panel of federal judges accused Brown of attempting to delay and circumvent their orders. They previously threatened to cite the governor for contempt if he did not comply.

The judges waived all state laws in June as they ordered Brown to expand good-time credits leading to early release. They also directed the governor to take other steps, including sending more inmates to firefighting camps, paroling elderly felons, leasing cells at county jails and slowing the return of thousands of inmates now housed in private prisons in other states.

If those steps fail, the judges ordered the state to release by year's end enough inmates from a list of lower-risk offenders until it reaches the maximum allowed population.

In its latest filing with the Supreme Court, the state argued that no governor has the unilateral authority to take the steps ordered by the three-judge panel. That would require approval by the Legislature or judicial pre-emption of California's core police powers, the administration argued.

Brown has said the state is spending $2 billion on new or expanded facilities for inmate medical and mental health treatment. That includes seven new centers for mental health treatment and the opening last June of an $839 million prison hospital in Stockton that will treat 1,722 inmates requiring long-term care. The state also has boosted hiring and salaries for all types of medical and mental health professionals.

The state has already reduced the population by 46,000 inmates since 2006.

More than half of the decrease that has occurred so far is due to a two-year-old state law -- known as realignment -- that is sentencing offenders convicted of crimes considered nonviolent, non-serious and non-sexual to county jails instead of state prisons.

AP Writer Mark Sherman in Washington contributed to this story.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | August 3, 2013 at 10:07 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Can the addresses of these judges be published so the newly released felons know where to go to thank them? Perhaps a group of these felons can join together to rent a house close to one of these judges. If the judges are that concerned for these felons, perhaps they should invite them over for lunch by the pool.

Nope, the lamo judges have great security of their homes at our expense. They want to be immune to the results of their actions on society. After all, the inconvenience of convicted felons is more important than public safety.

Our entire system of government cares little for the taxpayers who pay for this insanity.
I have no respect for any of them. I consider them all traitors to the American public.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 3, 2013 at 10:19 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

'..'839 million prison hospital in Stockton that will treat 1,722 inmates requiring long-term care,

Long-term care?

I don't want to pay for this.

Let them out.

We are talking about old prisoners so sick they can't even get out of bed, but the Prison State of California would rather build huge PRISON HOSPITALS and send the tax payers the bills!

We need an overhaul.

We imprison too many people, and for too long.

And our crime statistics are no better than nations who imprison a fractional percentage of what we do.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 3, 2013 at 10:20 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

The U.S.A. Is not the land of the free.

We are the land of prisons.

We imprison more per-capita than any other nation on earth.

A larger percentage of the American population is in prison than in any other nation on earth, including North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran.

One in 32 Americans will at some point in their life be in the criminal justice system (prison, jail, or probation/parole)

California spends more on prisons than on our public universities, a reversal fom just a couple decades ago

One in 145 California men are on the state's draconian sex offender registry that lumps together someone who peed in public with serial child molesters

California is one of only 4 states in the entire country who don't use a tier system sex offender registry to distinguish the level of severity of the crimes and forces everyone convicted of a "sex crime", no matter how minor, to register for LIFE.

Our prisons disproportionately target minorities, the poor, and people with mental illness.

California's penal system is corrupt, dirty, overcrowded, unfair, unjust, lacking in basic medical care, and unconstitutional and both DEMOCRATS and REPUBLICANS feed the monster with new laws, new prisons, and new political pandering each and every year.

We are a prison state.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 3, 2013 at 10:21 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Jerry Brown and the "state officials" can whine and complain all they want, but this is what happens when you run an over zealous, secretive, dirty, over crowded, sub -standard prison system.

I supported Mr. Brown, but will not again.

Apparently this man feels his political machine is more important than basic human rights.

We have people being locked-away in abhorrent "solitary confinement" situations disproportionate to the crimes they committed.

I just saw an interview this afternoon by Chris Hayes on MSNBC in which a man in prison who spit on an officer was given FOUR YEARS in solitary confinement.

Of course spitting on an officer is wrong and should be punished, but FOUR YEARS in solitary, mentally de-stabilizing solitary confinement?

The politicians, the prison worker and police union bosses, and the various industries getting rich off of lucrative imprisonment have all proven they will never relent and will always find ways to imprison more and more of our society and do so without regard for civil-liberties and human rights.

It's high-time he courts step in and reign-in prison-happy fanatics like Brown and the state of California!

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 3, 2013 at 10:22 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

If Jerry Brown and California Officials were in a poor nation overseas running a prison system similar to California's, they would be written-off by most Americans as a rogue, corrupt prison state.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | August 3, 2013 at 10:27 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

"The Supreme Court's ruling rejected Brown's plea over the objections of Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who all said they would have granted the state's request."

Any progressive/liberal voters out there who support Governor Brown need to realize this.

When it comes to being a prison state, this "progressive" has views in-line with the radical right wing on the Supreme Court.

I will never vote for Brown for anything again.

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Avatar for user 'muckapoo1'

muckapoo1 | August 4, 2013 at 11:19 a.m. ― 3 years, 7 months ago

Good gosh Duck. is there no bleeding heart program that you cannot get behind? Everything from open borders to better prisons for the felons who would rob or kill us. Let them all rot in Hades as far as I am concerned. It costs more to house these idiots than most people make. I suggest a huge prison in the outback of Alaska. Build it where there is nothing for 200 miles. Low cost and the losers who try to escape will be good food for the wolves. I am sure most states would use it to lower the cost of keeping this scum alive. I know Duck, you want to know where to send the cookies and blankets. LOL

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