Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in upholding the previously ordered release of California inmates from CDCR. California's prisons, designed to hold 80,000 inmates, have been holding more than double that for decades. In response to a long period of attempted federal intervention and a prior three judge federal court finding (subsequently appealed) that mental and medical care needs of inmates could not be met unless population size is reduced, the high court's 5-4 decision finally concludes the case.
This is big news. Supposedly population will be reduced to about 137 percent of capacity. Exactly how and when this will be accomplished has yet to be seen but supposedly it will happen within two years. Inmates will hopefully receive better care rather than cruel and unusual punishment.
And now California can re-embark on a new era of community based corrections rather than having such an extraordinarily heavy reliance on the extremely expensive system of incarceration. I say re-embark because we have successfully gone down this path before--in the 60's and early 70's through probation subsidy and in the 80's through the Blue Ribbon Commission's community supervision act proposal. There have been more recent proposals as well. Jeanne Woodford and Barry Krisberg note in their Op-Ed piece ("Don't fear the prison decision") that California will not be freeing dangerous offenders to meet mandate and that other states have recently reduced their incarceration levels maintaining public safety.
Hopefully, decreased commitments and shorter terms will also lead to reduced reliance on parole supervision as well. California has been criticized heavily for paroling everyone even though not everyone "needs" it. Some have argued that the system of supervision itself should be done away with, but a significant response has been that even if that's true, there has to be a release valve from prison. Perhaps for the moment there is a greater need for flexibility to get or keep people out of prison.
The high court's finding could also not have come at a better time--over the past 30 years California's prison budget has more than tripled to over 9 billion dollars while the state's services have been severely crippled. The horrific budget deficit that threatens massive layoffs at local levels, closure of public parks, retraction of higher education and huge increases in tuition/fees, might be mitigated by the proper reduction of money to the prison system. Whether that can happen has yet to be seen.
Relief ordered, at last! Download the opinion at this link.