Politics & Government

Supreme Court rejects California's prison appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday did exactly what it indicated it would do more than four months ago: It rejected California's appeal of a lower court's order that the state draft and submit a plan to reduce its prison population.

The nation's top court also repeated it is waiting for the Schwarzenegger administration's appeal of the lower court's final order. That final order was issued Jan. 12 and adopts the state's revised plan and mandates the reduction.

The lower court — a special three-judge federal panel — stayed its final order pending the Supreme Court's consideration of it.

The state has been itching to get before the high court with its argument that the panel should never have been formed and, once it was, its unprecedented decree to reduce inmate population far exceeded any authority granted by the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996.

On Aug. 4, the three judges found crowding to be the primary cause of an unconstitutional level of inmate medical and mental health care and ordered the state to come up with a plan slashing the population of its 33 adult prisons.

Specifically, the panel said the prisons, now operating at nearly 200 percent of design capacity, must have no more than 137.5 percent of design capacity by the end of the two-year period. Estimates of how many inmates' releases that would require range from 41,000 to 46,000.

Both sides agree it will be the first time the Supreme Court will consider a case involving a "prisoner release order" under the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

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