The US Supreme Court has turned down a request to temporarily stop California from freeing 46,000 inmates from its crowded jails.
California has one of the most overcrowded and underfunded prison systems in the country, prompting three federal judges in August to order it to develop a plan to free some 46,000 prisoners in the next two years.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had asked the US Supreme Court to block the order due to go into effect from September 18, arguing that freeing the detainees could endanger state residents.
But the top US court turned down the request, in a decision seen by AFP on Monday, although it highlighted that the move was still on hold and would not be implemented until a thorough review was completed by the Supreme Court.
“In denying the stay, the court takes note that the three-judges district court has indicated that its final order will not be implemented until this court has had the opportunity to review the district court’s decree,” it said in its ruling.
The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that California lawmakers have approved an alternative plan to reduce the state’s prison population by up to 25,000 in two years.
It said the plan, agreed on Friday after weeks of tense debate, was less ambitious than that initially envisioned by Schwarzenegger.
The new package calls for less supervision of low-level offenders on parole in order to prevent them from being sent back to prison for violating the terms of their release, the newspaper said.
Some offenders would also be able to earn shorter terms by undergoing rehabilitation programs.
California has some of the most overcrowded prisons in the United States, with an estimated 170,000 inmates housed in facilities designed for 100,000 people, according to 2007 figures.
The panel said the prison system should seek to reduce crowding so that facilities were accommodating between 120 to 145 percent of their design capacity.
The ruling was the latest twist in long-running class action lawsuits filed by a group of prisoners against the state.
A ruling issued in February by a panel of federal judges said there was “overwhelming” evidence that overcrowding in California’s prison system was depriving inmates of the medical and mental health care they were entitled to under the US constitution.