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California prisons may not meet standards of court order to reduce population

California officials have expressed doubt about the state's ability to comply with a court order to reduce its prison populations by 2013. California prison officials had asked the court [LAT report] to allow them to retain 6,000 more inmates than the original court order had determined, saying the state would comply with the "spirit of the order" by providing better access to health care for inmates. The court in turn ordered California to produce a list of inmates who are unlikely to reoffend or may otherwise qualify for early release. California has until Friday to comply with the court order. The US Supreme Court [official website] last year upheld [JURIST report] the court order to reduce the prison population, concluding that "A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society."

In the 5-4 Supreme Court decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court concluded that the extreme overcrowding of the California prison system is causing inmates to receive inadequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment [text]. In August 2009, a special panel of federal judges ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] California to reduce its prison population by about 46,000 inmates or construct more facilities to handle the prisoners. After the court's decision, it was apparent that California would be unable to build the prisons and would have to release prisoners. The court found the inability of the prison system to provide the "basic sustenance" of medical care is an Eighth Amendment violation that the courts must remedy.

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