SAN FRANCISCO - A federal appeals court Tuesday ordered California to release some 40,000 inmates from its state prisons over the next two years, in a finding that ongoing prison crowding violates constitutional standards for prisoner health care.
The administration of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said it would appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.
The ruling by a three-judge panel stemmed from challenges by two inmates who claimed that the state’s 33 prisons were so overcrowded that they were denied adequate health care.
With more than 158,000 inmates crammed into facilities designed for 84,000, prisoners are forced to sleep in triple-tier bunks squeezed into gymnasia and other open areas, increasing the risk of infectious disease.
In a 185-page opinion, the panel blamed a crackdown on crime and an unwillingness to expand prison budgets as the cause of the situation.
“California’s prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage,” the judges wrote. “The medical and mental health care available to inmates in the California prison system is woefully and constitutionally inadequate, and has been for more than a decade.”