The suicide rate in California’s overcrowded prisons is nearly twice the national average, and one inmate dies every eight days from inadequate medical care. The Los Angeles Times says those are two indicators in the 15-year legal battle over whether the state’s prisons are failing to provide humane medical care for the 165,000 inmates. Tomorrow, the case moves to a national stage when the Supreme Court hears the state’s challenge to a court order that would require the prison population to be reduced by about 25 percent in two years. That could mean releasing or transferring more than 40,000 inmates.
Eighteen other states joined in support of California’s appeal, saying they fear a ruling upholding the prison release order could trigger similar moves across the nation. “Real world experience” suggests that releasing a large number of inmates would “inevitably place innocent citizens at much greater risk,” they said. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calls the order from a panel of three federal judges “the most sweeping intrusion into a state’s management” of its prisons ever handed down by a court. They say the panel is “using the guise of providing healthcare” to order a restructuring of the state’s correctional system. They also argue that the forced release of prisoners would threaten public safety. Defenders of the judges’ order cite Schwarzenegger’s own words in 2006 declaring that California faced an overcrowding emergency in its prisons. Most legal experts assume the conservative justices of the high court will cast a skeptical eye on the prison release order,