California has been ordered by the US Supreme Court to release 40,000 prisoners within two years, due to overcrowding. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Jails designed for 80,000 inmates currently hold 148,000 people, the state said.
Arguing that releasing prisoners could present a risk to public safety, California appealed to the Supreme Court.
The appeal was rejected by a 5-4 vote by the judges who ruled that the limit was necessary in order “to remedy the violation of prisoners’ constitutional rights”.
Therefore the Supreme Court upheld the 2009 federal court order.
According to the Supreme Court ruling, the method for reducing overcrowding “is at the discretion of state officials.”
“But absent compliance through new construction, out-of-state transfers, or other means… the state will be required to release some number of prisoners before their full sentences have been served,” it added.
On Friday 150 prisoners were involved in a riot at a maximum security prison in Sacramento, the state capital, and at least two inmates were stabbed.
Prison officials said that to gain control the guards used pepper spray and fired a live round.
With 33 jails California has the largest state prison population in the US, yet for many years its prisons have been overcrowded and underfunded.
In 2010 former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said one of the solutions to reduce prison spending in California could be to house undocumented inmates in Mexican jails.