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Supreme Court refuses California request to delay release of inmates

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 9:09 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — The Supreme Court on Friday paved the way for the early release of nearly 10,000 California inmates by year's end despite warnings by Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials that a public safety crisis looms if they're forced to open the prison gates.

The majority of justices refused Brown's emergency request to halt a lower court's directive for the early release of the prisoners to ease severe overcrowding in California's 33 adult prisons.

A panel of three federal judges previously ordered the state to cut its prison population by nearly 8 percent to roughly 110,000 inmates by Dec. 31 to avoid conditions amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.

The panel, responding to decades of lawsuits filed by inmates, repeatedly ordered early releases after finding inmates were needlessly dying and suffering because of inadequate medical and mental health care caused by overcrowding.

Court-appointed experts reported that the prison system had a suicide rate that worsened last year to 24 per 100,000 inmates, far exceeding the national average of 16 suicides per 100,000 inmates in state prisons.

Brown appealed the latest decision of the panel and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to cancel the early release order while considering his arguments that the state is making significant progress in improving conditions.

The governor also said he cannot further reduce the population without releasing dangerous felons.

“This ruling refusing to block the order doesn't bode well for their overall appeal,” said inmate lawyer Don Specter, head of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office.

Lawyers representing Brown argued in his July 22 appeal that releasing 10,000 more inmates will involve violent criminals and overwhelm the abilities of law enforcement and social services to monitor them.

“No data suggests that a sudden release of inmates with these characteristics can be done safely,” the state said in its filing. “No state has ever done it.”

The panel of judges and attorneys representing inmates have consistently rejected that argument.

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