SCOTUS: California Must Release More Than 1/4 of Prisoners

California must address its overcrowding crisis by releasing over 1/4 of its prison imnate population, according to the Los Angeles’ Times Supreme Court orders California to release tens of thousands of prison inmates. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy, the SCOTUS has upheld a federal court order that called for releasing 38,000 to 46,000 prisoners. It was one of the largest prison release orders in the nation’s history.

The conditions in California prisons are abysmal (and the losing “war on drugs” has only compounded this problem). Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that California’s prisons had “fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements” because of overcrowding, resulting in conditions in which as many as 200 prisoners may live in gymnasium and as many as 54 prisoners share a single toilet. This overcrowding has caused inmate suffering and death. California responded to the federal court ruling by moving some prison inmates to county facilties but are still over the allowed numbers.

The dissent criticized the opinion and claimed the federal court did not have the power to order the states to release the inmates. The dissent also claimed that, basically, bad things will happen with felons on the streets. Scary picture, right?

Actually, not right. As most criminal defense attorneys knows and according to DrugWarFacts.Org, sentencing and release policies, not crime rates, determine the numbers of persons in prison. In the period from 1991-1998, California had a 44% rise in its incarceration rate with a 36% drop in crime rates. This is a result of the failed war on drugs.

Let’s stop wasting taxpayer money on a useless war on drugs and in funding the prison industrial complex. Sorry, prison guard unions, the SCOTUS has spoken.


Lauren K Johnson is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California and advocates for prison reform, drug law reform, and three-strikes law reform.