WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday endorsed a court order requiring California to cut its prison population by thousands of inmates to improve health care for those who remain behind bars.
The court said in a 5-4 decision that the reduction is "required by the Constitution" to correct longstanding violations of inmates' rights.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a California native, wrote the majority opinion, in which he included photos of severe overcrowding. The court's four Democratic appointees joined with Kennedy.
"The violations have persisted for years. They remain uncorrected," Kennedy said.
Justice Antonin Scalia said in dissent that the court order is "perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation's history."
Scalia, reading his dissent aloud Monday, said it would require the release of "the staggering number of 46,000 convicted felons."
Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia's opinion, while Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate dissent for himself and Chief Justice John Roberts.
The case revolves around inadequate mental and physical health care in a state prison system that in 2009 averaged nearly a death a week that might have been prevented or delayed with better medical care.
The state's 33 adult prisons hold more than 142,000 inmates in its 33 adult prisons. The facilities were designed to hold about 80,000.
But the state has protested a court order to cut the population cut to around 110,000 inmates within two years
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