California has until week’s end to come up with a plan to reduce by nearly a quarter its population of 154,000 prison inmates, reports the Washington Post. A federal court mandated the plan last month after finding that California had not done enough to remedy severe overcrowding, resulting in continued constitutional violations and unnecessary deaths at a rate of one prisoner per week.
Legal experts say the order — stemming from ongoing lawsuits filed years ago — is unprecedented in the years since Congress passed legislation that made it tougher for federal courts to intervene in state prison matters. “There’s never been anything like it,” said Sharon Dolovich, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. “The overcrowded facility is California’s entire prison system, which is enormous.” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and some other state officials, particularly Republicans, have tried unsuccessfully to delay the population reduction while the state appeals the ruling. They contend that the order could force the state to dump tens of thousands of inmates onto the streets, jeopardizing public safety and further straining the already cash-strapped state.