Prison Overcrowding: Supremes A'Go-Go

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It may not be the next step in the process, but you could place a safe bet that the wheels are now in motion for the state of California to ultimately ask the Supreme Court of the United States to stop a federal court from ordering a major release of inmates from the state's prisons.

This afternoon, a panel of three federal judges issued a tentative ruling that orders California to release tens of thousands of prisoners to relieve overcrowding conditions inside the state's 37 prisons.

Saying he and the governor "strongly disagree with the ruling," corrections secretary Matt Cate told reporters this afternoon the state will take its case to the nation's highest court, if needed.

The ruling "would result in the release of between 37,000 and 58,000 inmates onto the California streets," said Cate. "We believe it poses a significant threat to public safety." Prison officials put the current total prison population at about 170,000.

The timing, while undoubtedly coincidental, can't help but be noticed in light of budget negotiations. Talks to resolve a $40 billion deficit are still ongoing, but are believed to be coming to a close.

One wonders how this news might add to the sense that California is tumbling over the cliff... and therefore help instill a sense of urgency in lawmakers and Governor Schwarzenegger.

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About John Myers

John Myers is Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED Public Radio and "The California Report," heard daily on 23 public radio stations across the Golden State.

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