The court appears to be moving to decide the long running circuit court battle with the state over control of the prisons, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
“A legal battle over who gets to control California's massive spending on prisons — judges or corrections officials — may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, with overcrowding at the state's 33 prisons at the center of the debate.
“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state officials have challenged an edict from three federal judges that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must cut the prison population by 40,000, or about a quarter of its 165,000 inmates. The judges' order, issued last August, cited overcrowding as the main cause of healthcare failures that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and left inmates to die from treatable conditions at the rate of one per week.
“The three-judge order brought to a head the tension over a decades-long judicial practice of intervening in prison management to correct what have been deemed unconstitutional deficiencies in state custody. Courts have empowered a phalanx of overseers and experts to mandate reforms on prisoners' healthcare, psychiatric treatment, parole rights, access to law libraries and other matters.
“But as California's budget woes increasingly pit the jailers and judicial monitors in a struggle for scarce resources, the monitors have become a point of contention.
“The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide as early as Monday whether to review the three-judge order to reduce overcrowding. Some observers of the legal tug of war over inmate treatment believe the conservative justices on the high court want to weigh in on what they may see as judicial activism. When the state appealed the reduction order, the justices suspended a two-year deadline for releasing inmates or building prisons to house them.
“The standoff leaves inmates and guards wrestling with rising tensions that can lead to violent outbreaks like the Aug. 8 riot at the California Institution for Men at Chino, where inmates crammed into 200-bunk dormitories went on a rampage that injured about 250 and destroyed 1,300 beds.”