The prisons are operating at over 200% capacity. Prisoners sleep in hallways, gymnasiums. There is little health care. It's the very definition of inhumane conditions.
The Supreme Court essentially said that in order to lock someone up as punishment you need to be able to provide a certain bare minimum of humanitarian standards. Seems pretty reasonable, no? Of course the conservatives are losing their shit over this. Or at least pretending to in order to score political points. Who can tell the difference these days?
California has already said that they will try not to release any prisoners early--even nonviolent offenders--and will instead just try to not put anyone else in jail unless they have to, from now on. I mean, it's either that or raise taxes.
Supreme Court Upholds Prisoner Release Injunction
California's prisons are obscenely overcrowded, housing a population about double the intended capacity, and the state has not adequately responded to court orders demanding that it remedy the problem. In response to this, a three-judge panel ruled that California had to cut its prison population substantially in order to prevent constitutional standards. The facts were grim enough to stir the sporadic conscience of Anthony Kennedy, who wrote a 5-4 opinion upholding the order.
Not surprisingly, this decision provoked two dissents -- a hysterical one ("Today, quite to the contrary, the Court disregards stringently drawn provisions of the governing statute, and traditional constitutional limitations upon the power of a federal judge, in order to uphold the absurd") by Scalia (joined by Thomas) and a more measured one that (as usual) reached the same fundamental bottom line by Alito (joined by Roberts.) The key premise of both dissents is that the judiciary is incapable of supervising state prison systems and ordering proper remedies. But this is both empirically wrong and makes little sense in theory. The rights of prisoners -- who have essentially no representation in the political process -- are uniquely* well-suited* to judicial intervention. This is the type of case where judicial review is particularly justifiable.
This isn't to say that this result is ideal. But the courts are dealing with the fact that -- as a result of Republican intransigence and horrible institutional design -- California wants to incarcerate huge numbers of people but doesn't want to spend the money (and hence raise the taxes) that would be required to do so.
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