Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on Prison Overcrowding Explained; Prison Photos From Decision
Update May 25 More photos from a law firm involved in the case.
Update 3:16 p.m. From California Watch, a look at how the state might meet the order to drastically decrease its prison population.
KQED’s Joshua Johnson sat down with Scott Shafer, who covers criminal justice issues for us, to discuss today’s major SCOTUS ruling upholding a lower court’s order that California must reduce its prison population. (Listen to the interview here.)The Supreme Court declared the state must shed its prison system of some
46,000 inmates (Update May 25: That was the number cited in the decision, but the actual reductions required might be more or less depending on the prison population at any time) within two years. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority.
Shafer explains that state prisons are at 200% capacity, with twice as many inmates incarcerated as the system was built to hold. The ruling did not dictate how California should comply with the order — whether it should release inmates, transfer them out of state to for-profit prisons, change its parole rules, or take other actions. Cash-strapped California will not be able to simply throw money at the problem, Shafer says, and will probably have to decide on a combination of policy shifts that can meet the required reduction.
One thing that might help expedite changes: The ruling probably didn’t come as a surprise, Shafer says, as it was clear during oral arguments that a majority of justices had run out of patience with the state, giving policymakers a clear signal to start preparing for compliance.
Also of note: The majority took the extraordinary action of including three photos in the official opinion:
As for the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, Shafer called it “bombastic and scathing.” Scalia characterized the 2009 order to reduce the number of inmates as “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history,” and contended that its affirmation would put public safety at risk.