In this undated file photo released by the California Department of Corrections, inmates sit in crowded conditions at California State Prison in Los Angeles. (Photo: AP Photo/California Department of Corrections, File)
For years advocacy groups have complained of the inhumane living conditions in prison, and in California this week the activists’ cries were acted upon by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court has ordered California to reduce its prison population by 30,000 prisoners. The justices ruled that in the state’s overcrowded prisons, judges must get involved when the conditions are “incompatible with the concept of human dignity.”
A picture shown in the courtroom showed bunk beds nearly side by side and cells the size of phone booths.
At one point the prison system had nearly 160,000 inmates, double its capacity size.
“As many as 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium, monitored by as few as two or three correctional officers,” says Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who agreed that it was time for the courts to force the state to act. “As many as 54 prisoners may share a single toilet,” he adds.
Kennedy suggested some ways to decrease the large numbers, including transferring inmates to local jails or out-of-state prisons. He also suggested the expanded use of “good time” credits to excuse prisoners now incarcerated for technical violations of parole.
Justice Samuel A. Alito, who dissented, said that, “The majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California. . . . I fear that today’s decision, like prior prisoner release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims. I hope that I am wrong.”
A three-judge panel declared that reductions should be completed within two years.