A federal court panel has ordered California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to lower the state prison population by more than 40,000 within two years to lessen overcrowding and improve health care, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The three-judge panel said its order, the first to set deadlines for reducing the number of inmates, was compelled by the state’s “long-standing failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical and mental health care.” The panel noted that the state has already proposed to meet the goal by sending fewer minor offenders to prison.
The new order was suspended to await the outcome of the state’s U.S. Supreme Court appeal, which argues that the judges have no such authority. “We will fight any decision that orders early release and endangers public safety,” said Schwarzenegger’s spokesman, Aaron McLear. He said the state expects the Supreme Court to hear its appeal and decide whether judges can issue orders that compel prisoner releases.