The United States Supreme Court ordered the state of California to reduce its prison population by up to 46,000 Monday. The order, one of the largest in history, comes after a three-justice panel in California determined that the prisons were so overcrowded it was resulting in “needless suffering and death.”
The Supreme Court justices were split on the decision. Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke for the majority, writing that the state’s prisons had “fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements” as a result of overcrowding.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the minority opinion, calling the order “staggering” and “absurd,” and that it was essentially the freeing of “46,000 happy-go-lucky felons.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Chief Justice John Roberts joined in the dissent. Alito and Roberts, however, separately argued that the order violates federal law designed to limit federal judges’ authority in prison releases.
At this point it is not known the exact number of prisoners who will eventually be released. In the past, state officials have said that the constitutional limit on the number of prisoners that can be jailed at any one time is 110,000. Right now, California’s prisons hold 142,000 inmates.