Court dismisses California prisoner release case

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 19, 2010 10:54am EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed appeals by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican legislators of a federal court order to reduce the state's overcrowded prison population by some 40,000 inmates within two years.

The high court's decision to dismiss the appeals for lack of jurisdiction occurred as part of a long-running legal battle over California's 33 adult prisons and their often-criticized medical care for inmates.

A panel of three federal judges in August ordered the state's prison population be reduced in stages over two years to relieve the overcrowding that has caused inadequate medical and mental health care.

California's prisons have been filled to nearly twice their designed capacity of 80,000, according to the ruling.

The Supreme Court noted the state has come up with a plan to comply with the lower court's order but the three-judge panel earlier this month put it on hold pending the outcome of the appeals to the high court. With the appeals dismissed, the plan can go forward.

Improving conditions in the nation's largest state prison system has become a major legal, political and budget issue in view of California's budget crisis and high unemployment.

(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Bill Trott)

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