The 5-4 decision represents one of the largest prison release orders in U.S. history. The court majority says overcrowding has caused 'suffering and death.' In a sharp dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia warns 'terrible things are sure to happen.'
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ordered California on Monday to release tens of thousands of its prisoners to relieve overcrowding, saying that "needless suffering and death" had resulted from putting too many inmates into facilities that cannot hold them in decent conditions.
It is one of the largest prison release orders in the nation's history, and it sharply split the high court.
Justices upheld an order from a three-judge panel in California that called for releasing 38,000 to 46,000 prisoners. Since then, the state has transferred about 9,000 state inmates to county jails. As a result, the total prison population is now about 32,000 more than the capacity limit set by the panel.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said California's prisons had "fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements" because of overcrowding. As many as 200 prisoners may live in gymnasium, he said, and as many as 54 prisoners share a single toilet.