May 23, 2011 8:39 PM by Nancy Chen
A controversial decision by the United States Supreme Court means tens of thousands of California state prisoners will be released because of violations of cruel and unusual punishment.
The order is because of overcrowding, leading to what the court calls "constitutional violations."
It is one of the largest prison release orders in U.S. history.
The court split on the decision, five to four.
The total prison population is currently about 32,000 more than it should be.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said in his ruling that as many as 200 prisoners live in one gymnasium and that as many as 54 share just one toilet.
Kennedy said medical and mental health care has failed to meet basic heath needs and that needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result.
The justices did agree state officials should be given more time to figure out how the prisoners should be released and from where.
It is a decision many law enforcement agencies are waiting for.
"At this point, we're looking at what happens, and how the state executes it--that's the most important thing," said Rob Bryn, a spokesperson for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department.
San Luis Obispo's California Men's Colony is one of 33 state prisons.
Thomas Conway, a Santa Margarita resident, says he's worried about law and order implications but agrees with the decision, saying there is no other choice.
"It's the reality we're faced with," he said. "I mean, I don't want to see any of them released if they have to pay their debt to society."
The concern is prisoners released from prison will return to lives of crime.
"It depends on what the offense is," Bryn said. "Obviously, we would be more concerned if they were violent or sex offenders, which for the most part, I don't think we're going to see, but we may see some of the fraud people."
Justice Samuel Alito was one of the four who dissented, calling the decision "staggering" and "absurd."
"I fear that today's decision...will lead to a grim roster of victims," he wrote. "I hope that I am wrong. In a few years, we will see."
The California Men's Colony says all inmates are generally sent back to where they committed their crimes for parole.
The state provides money for a bus ticket for them to leave San Luis Obispo, for example, if they didn't commit their crime here.
It is, however, their responsibility to get there.
This all comes at a tense time for the state prison system; there have been at least two prison riots in the past three days.
Nearly 200 inmates rioted at San Quentin last night, leaving at least four men hospitalized with stab or slash wounds.
San Quentin houses nearly five thousand men, including those on death row.
In another incident, 150 inmates fought in a riot at the prison in Folsom on Friday.
Two inmates were stabbed there, with others injured.
About three thousand inmates are housed there.
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