U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s request to lift a federal judge’s order giving the state five months to reduce prison crowding.
Brown had sought the stay to buy California time to appeal prison crowding orders before the full high court.
Under protest, California already has begun preparations to expand parole programs, continue shipping inmates out of state, and release its lowest-risk inmates. The state had argued that requiring counties to house low-level felons and parole violators -- lowering the inmate population by 25,000 prisoners since October 2011 -- is enough.
It is the second time the Supreme Court is being asked to weigh in on California prison crowding. In a May 2011 decision written by Kennedy, the high court found that crowding, along with poor medical care, amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment,” causing the needless death of an inmate a week.
But in documents filed last month, Brown’s corrections administrators said their current plan would still fall short of the order to lower prison crowding to 137.5% of capacity. The state’s 33 prisons are at almost 150% capacity, requiring removal of some 9,600 prisoners by the end of the year to meet the order.
The state said it could identify only 1,205 inmates to release who have committed nonviolent crimes and have less than a year remaining on their sentences. Its current plan requires some 4,170 inmate releases -- unless California finds other ways to meet that goal, such as increasing the time off their sentences that prisoners receive for completing prison programs.
Without a stay, Brown’s lawyers argued the state would be forced to release “offenders with a history of serious or violent offenses who are very likely to commit more serious crimes, impacting already stretched law enforcement, social service, mental health, and substance use treatment resources of counties.”