The New York Times provided a glimpse into one of the California prisons affected by this week’s Supreme Court ruling. In the California Institution for Men at Chino, a windowless space once a gymnasium serves as a de facto cell for dozens of prisoners. Rows of bunk beds, just a few inches apart, cover almost every empty space on the floor. Ominous messages stenciled on the walls signaled the tension: “Caution: No warning shots will be fired.” Two guards mind the 200 prisoners, while another, known as a gunner, watches from up high, ready to intervene at any moment.
Overcrowding has led to riots, suicides, and killings of inmates and guards over the last several years. Matthew Cate, the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said conditions had actually improved since the filing of the lawsuit in 2006 that ended with Monday's court decision. There are now roughly 143,000 inmates in the state's prisons, down from 162,000 in 2006, in part because the state has sent some 10,000 inmates to out-of-state facilities. While there were once nearly 20,000 inmates in spaces not meant for housing, commonly referred to as “bad beds,” that number has dropped to 6,600.