24 May 2011

Court orders California to free prisoners

11:27 am on 24 May 2011

The United States Supreme Court has ordered California to free thousands of prison inmates, saying chronic overcrowding violated inmates' rights.

In a narrow 5-4 majority ruling upholding a lower court decision, the top US court said the release is the only way to address the constitutional violation of cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a majority opinion the case arises from serious constitutional violations in California's prison system, which have persisted for years.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling could mean the release of 46,000 criminals which he called an outrageous result.

The state has about 148,000 inmates housed in 33 jails designed for just 80,000 people.

In a sign of tensions in Calilfornia's jails, another riot was reported on Monday, the second in only a few days. Four inmates were injured when nearly 200 prisoners rioted on Sunday at San Quentin jail, north of San Francisco.