California ordered to reduce overcrowded prisons

AL JAZEERA: The US Supreme Court ruled on Monday that California must drastically reduce its prison population to relieve severe overcrowding that has exposed inmates to increased violence, disease and death.

California is home to the largest prison systems in the US – the country with the world’s largest incarceration rates.

The high court’s decision calls on the state to cut the population to no more than 110,000 inmates, meaning California will have to shed some 33,000 inmates over the next two years. State officials can accomplish that by transferring inmates to local jails or releasing them.

“Our goal is to not release inmates at all,” said Matthew Cate, the state corrections secretary. Shorter term inmates will leave prison before the Supreme Court’s deadline expires, and newly sentenced lower-level offenders would go to local jails under the plan.

The 5-4 ruling revealed a sharp divide on the court between US Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia.

Kennedy wrote for the majority and described dismal conditions where prisoners are denied minimal care and suicidal inmates are held in `”telephone-booth sized cages without toilets”.

“A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society,” Kennedy wrote.

Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett reports.