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Supreme Court Orders California To Release More Than 38,000 Prisoners

In what the Los Angeles Times calls "one of the largest prison release orders in the nation's history," the Supreme Court ordered California to release 38,000 to 46,000 prisoners.

With a 5-4 vote, the court ruled that "needless suffering and death" resulted from overcrowded facilities. USA Today reports:

Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the court's four liberals, declared that inmates' health and dignity had been severely compromised and that an immediate reduction of the prison population was necessary to remedy violations of prisoner rights.


"For years the medical and mental health care provided by California's prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners' basic health needs," Kennedy said, noting that as many as 200 prisoners may live in a gym and as many as 54 prisoners share a single toilet. "Efforts to remedy the (medical and mental health) violation have been frustrated by severe overcrowding in California's prison system."

Justice Antonin Scalia took the unusual step of reading part of his dissent from the bench. He said the ruling would free thousands of convicted felons and it amounted to "perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history." He called the result of the order, "outrageous."

The American Civil Liberties Union, reports the Times, praised the decision:

David Fathi, director of the ACLU national prison project, said "reducing the number of people in prison not only would save the state taxpayers half a billion annually, it would lead to the implementation of truly rehabilitative programs that lower recidivism rates and create safer communities."

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.