Release Date:  October 15, 2013
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Brief Order Does Not Resolve Whether The Order Is Legally Correct

The United States Supreme Court today dismissed Governor Jerry Brown’s appeal of the three-judge district court’s refusal to modify its prison population reduction order. The dismissal order stated tersely that it was “for want of jurisdiction.”

“Today’s dismissal leaves the three-judge court’s order intact, but it does not endorse that order or decide whether it is correct,” said Kent Scheidegger, Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF). CJLF previously submitted a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of all four living former governors supporting Gov. Brown’s request for a stay of the order.

The three-judge court has ordered that California’s prison population be reduced to an arbitrarily chosen figure of 137.5% of so-called “design capacity.” The actual capacity of prisons to safely hold prisoners is well above that misleadingly named figure. Brown argued that the prisoners who can be safely removed from state prison have already been removed through the realignment law, and “it is now certain that [further] releases will compromise public safety . . . ”

The order is supposedly based on the effect of overpopulation on the prisons’ ability to provide constitutionally adequate health care. However, in a supplemental filing last month, attorneys for Brown told the high court:

The three-judge court’s latest injunction underscores that its orders no longer have anything to do with ensuring that inmates in two discrete classes receive health care that satisfies the Eighth Amendment—which is what these cases should be about. Nor are they concerned with meeting the 137.5% of prison design capacity population cap, which purportedly is designed to cure care that violates the Eighth Amendment. Rather, the court’s interest appears to be in legislating criminal justice policy by reducing the prison population through outright releases of inmates that it—and [the prisoners’] counsel—do not believe should be incarcerated.

"Although a direct appeal to the high court is not available, the release order remains legally wrong and extremely dangerous,” said Scheidegger. “We urge Gov. Brown to continue fighting it with every available means.”

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.