The Supreme Court ordered the state of California to release 10,000 criminals from prison before the end of the year. The ruling comes after a lower court blocked the release.
Needless to say, law enforcement is nervous about the release.
Despite warnings from California officials, the nation's highest court is refusing to delay the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by year's end to ease overcrowding at 33 adult prisons.
In its decision Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed an emergency request by the Gov. Jerry Brown to halt a lower court's directive for the early release.
Law enforcement officials expressed concern about the ruling.
The justices ignored efforts already under way to reduce prison populations and "chose instead to allow for the release of more felons into already overburdened communities," said Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association.
Brown's office referred a request for comment to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, where Secretary Jeff Beard vowed that the state would press on with a still-pending appeal in hope of preventing the releases.
A panel of three federal judges had previously ordered the state to cut its prison population by nearly 8 percent to roughly 110,000 inmates by Dec. 31 to avoid conditions amounting to cruel and unusual punishment. That panel, responding to decades of lawsuits filed by inmates, repeatedly ordered early releases after finding inmates were needlessly dying and suffering because of inadequate medical and mental health care caused by overcrowding.
Court-appointed experts found that the prison system had a suicide rate that worsened last year to 24 per 100,000 inmates, far exceeding the national average of 16 suicides per 100,000 inmates in state prisons.
Brown had appealed the latest decision of the panel and, separately, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to cancel the early release order while considering his arguments that the state is making significant progress in improving conditions. The high court refused Friday to stop the release but did not rule on the appeal itself. Corrections Secretary Beard said the state would press on with that, so the "merits of the case can be considered without delay."
However, inmate lawyer Don Specter, head of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, said the ruling Friday did not bode well for the overall appeal. He said the decision underscores what inmates have been arguing for years.
"The conditions are still overcrowded," he said. "The medical and health care remain abysmal."
One gets the feeling that this is not going to end well for the people of California. And like everything else in the state, the prison system just doesn't work. This has been a festering problem in California for more than a decade - ample time to construct additional prisons. But the state lacked the political will and leadership to take steps to avoid this public safety catastrophe.
Now these felons are going to be dumped on an already overtaxed system. It won't surprise anyone that many of them will probably return to a life of crime.