The Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, issued a sure to be controversial holding regarding the prison conditions in California state prisons. Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, ordered the release of approximately 32,000 inmates from California prisons.
The constitutional issue is whether prison conditions are so bad as to violate the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Evidence was presented to the Court regarding the prison conditions, specifically those involving inmate access to physical and mental health care. The Court goes into gruesome detail when it describes the overcrowding, noting, for instance, a gymnasium that houses over 500 hundred inmates at a time. Justice Kennedy even attaches to the opinion three black and white pictures of various locations in California prisons. The Court came to the conclusion that the constitutional violations were caused by overcrowding so the only reasonable solution is to require California to release a significant number of prisoners.
The dissenting opinions (separate ones by Scalia and Alito) address the obvious drawback to the holding: the potential increase in crime. Justice Alito stated, "I feel that today's decision, like prior prison release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims."
Given the controversial holding, what will be interesting to see is how the State of California will decide whom to release from prison. What crimes or persons are insignificant enough to warrant an early release? Where this line will be drawn has yet to be determined.