California Prisons

By Howard Mintz
Posted: 08/02/2013 11:59:01 AM PDT
Updated: 08/02/2013 06:41:02 PM PDT

Gov. Jerry Brown and his top prison officials may be running out of options to avoid having to remove another 10,000 inmates from the state’s prisons by the end of the year.

In a brief but significant order, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected the Brown administration’s bid to stall a federal court demand that the state shed the inmates to resolve California’s prison overcrowding crisis. It was the latest setback in a long-running case that has stirred fears of thousands of criminals walking free, although the state would likely seek to place many of the prisoners in other facilities, including county jails.

The Supreme Court without explanation denied California’s attempt to stay the orders while the justices consider whether to take up the state’s broader appeal, an ominous sign for the governor. Three justices dissented and voted to put the inmate release order on hold, including Justice Antonin Scalia, who labeled it a “terrible injunction.”

The Supreme Court did not indicate whether it will accept the full appeal of the order for its upcoming term, but with six justices refusing to put it on hold, the odds appear to weigh against the governor and his top prison aides.

Nevertheless, state officials vowed to press forward with their legal fight. The governor did not respond to the Supreme Court’s order, but Jeffrey Beard, head of the state prison system, issued a brief statement saying the state now hopes to get the justices to consider the heart of the appeal.

But legal experts say the state may have no choice but to remove the inmates. Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, said the Supreme Court’s refusal to act immediately signals a majority of the justices are disinclined to intervene, perhaps a reason Scalia’s dissent was so forceful.

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