"The Degree of Civilization in a Society Can Be Judged By Entering Its Prisons," Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881
Here's the first few paragraphs of the summary of the Supreme Court's, 5-4, Brown v. Plata (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Plata) opinion affirming the 3-district judge prison overcrowding release order from the Scotus Blog, 5/23/11:
With starkly different visions of what the decision would bring about, a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled on Monday that California may have to start turning loose many state prison inmates to relieve serious overcrowding that leads to health woes, deaths from neglect, suicides, and violent uprisings. As the five-Justice majority saw it, the release order is flexible, and may not actually mean a flood of releases. But as the four dissenters complained, it would lead to a “staggering number” of releases of hardened criminals in a “gamble” with the safety of all Californians.
Which vision proves to be true over the next two years, and beyond, depends upon what state officials do from here on: how they select the inmates to let go, what arrangements they can make to send prisoners to other states or to county jails, how they can reduce the influx of new prisoners into California’s 33 prisons, whether they can get money from the legislature for hiring more doctors and staff, and whether new construction can be carried out. The majority stressed how much flexibility it was leaving with the state’s officials, but the dissenters saw only chaos in trying to implement a “deliberately ambiguous set of suggestions” on how the release order could be pared down.
What is directly at issue in the decision, and is to be implemented beginning with this decision’s announcement, is a three-judge District Court’s January 2010 order requiring the state to reduce prison population statewide to 167 percent of capacity within six months, to 155 percent within 12 months, to 147 percent within 18 months, and to 137.5 percent within two years. The prison population state wide is now about 143, 400 inmates. The order has been on hold until the Supreme Court ruled.
At the time the District Court issued its order, this release requirement meant that, at the greatest level, somewhere around 46,000 inmates would have to go free to meet the two-year goal. That figure has dropped somewhat, and current estimates are that perhaps 37,000 will have to be released, unless state officials come up with alternatives to outright release.
More summaries and articles on today's decision: