Release Date:  August 5, 2009
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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The order by a panel of federal judges to release 40,000 California prison inmates has drawn fire from the California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.  On Tuesday, the three-judge panel released a 184-page order finding that, because the state has failed to fix the prison health care system and reduce overcrowding, California must reduce its inmate population by roughly 27% over the next two years.

The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a pro-law enforcement legal group, has announced that it will join the state in a United States Supreme Court appeal to have the order overturned.

CJLF pointed out that federal law requires the appeal of an inmate-release order must go directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the lower federal courts.  In California’s case, this will prevent review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considered to favor criminal defendants. The Foundation said that the judges appointed to the panel in 2007 by former Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, Mary Schroeder, are perhaps the most pro-inmate federal judges in the United States.

“The appointment of Judges Stephen Reinhardt, Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton to this panel made the possibility of an inmate release order a forgone conclusion,” said CJLF President Michael Rushford.  “The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 was adopted specifically to protect the public from this type of edict by requiring judges to weigh the public safety consequences of any order to release inmates.  The Act also assures that such orders are reviewed by the Supreme Court,” he added.

According to the CJLF, the federal panel failed to give proper weight to the public safety consequences, and notes that California’s history provides evidence that releasing convicted felons from prison results in higher crime rates, more crime victims, and increased law enforcement costs—at a time when many communities are cutting their police forces due to the state budget crisis. 

Noting that California is currently unable to keep track of its violent criminals, the Foundation cites the case of Lovelle Mixon—a criminal with a long record, including a firearm-related conviction—who shot and killed four police officers in Oakland last March while on parole.  “Our parole system is already so underfunded that it was unable to keep track of this dangerous criminal,” said Rushford.  “Does anybody doubt what will happen when 40,000 additional felons are released into our cities and neighborhoods?”