Today the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision (pdf), ordered California to carry out the plan a federal panel of judges had ordered back in 2009 designed to remove overcrowding in state prisons. To the surprise of no one, Judges Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts dissented.
Here is the last paragraph of the decision:
The medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons falls below the standard of decency that inheres in the Eighth Amendment. This extensive and ongoing constitutional violation requires a remedy, and a remedy will not be achieved without a reduction in overcrowding. The relief ordered by the three-judge court is required by the Constitution and was authorized by Congress in the PLRA. The State shall implement the order without further delay.
The LA Times reports on some of the consequences:
California may have to release tens of thousands of inmates or take other unprecedented steps to ease overcrowding in its prisons, which have long been plagued by inadequate medical and mental health...
California's 33 adult prisons were designed to hold about 80,000 inmates and now have about 145,000. In 2009 the state was ordered to reduce the prison population by some 46,000 inmates to get down to what judges decided would be a reasonable level, the largest prisoner release order ever from a federal court...
One of the dissenting justices, Samuel Alito, disagreed by writing: "I fear that today's decision, like prior prisoner release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims." ...
And who could have ever guessed that Justice Scalia would not be happy? From the Times article again:
In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Supreme Court had upheld "what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history."
California's legislature, already hopeless on this issue and still needing to resolve a $10,000,000,000 deficit, is not likely to do anything sensible. Will judges be ordering federal marshalls soon to escort prisoners out of state jails? Damned if I know, but it is about to get interesting.