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Tuesday
Nov302010

Overcrowding in California's Prisons Reaches Supreme Court

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Lawyers for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will tell the Supreme Court on Tuesday that a federal court order telling the state to reduce its prison population by 40,000 over two years is too drastic, and will endanger public safety.

The controversy arose in 2009 when a panel of three federal judges ruled that crowding in California's prisons violated prisoners' constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.  The panel relied upon the Prison Litigation Reform Act passed by Congress in 1996 that allows federal courts, in certain circumstances, to order caps on prison population to remedy constitutional violations.  With the state appealing, the order has not gone into effect.

California argues to the Supreme Court that the three-judge panel had no jurisdiction to rule on the issue and that it did not give California a reasonable amount of time to comply with previous court orders to remedy the problem.

"The release of these inmates will jeopardize the safety of California residents unless substantial investments in rehabilitation programs for released inmates are made" lawyers for the state argue in court papers.  "There is, however, no guarantee that California, which remains mired in fiscal crisis, has the financial ability to offer those services, or that the political branches would agree to direct available funds to released prisoners rather than other pressing needs."

The case stems from two separate lawsuits that had been wending their way through California courts for years, challenging the health care available in the prison system.

Citing horrific prison conditions, lawyers for the prisoners argue in court briefs that because of overcrowding, the state has failed to meet its obligation "to ensure the safety of guards and prison personnel , the public and the prisoners themselves."

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