(CN) – The Supreme Court has agreed to review an order forcing California to reduce its prison population by 40,000 inmates to improve the medical and mental health care of the nation’s largest prison system.
The high court on Monday accepted the state’s appeal and agreed to hear the case in its next term, which starts in October.
California argues that the three-judge panel lacked the authority to order sweeping cuts in prison population. The state’s prison system is the nation’s largest, with more than 150,000 inmates.
“There are simply too many prisoners for the existing capacity,” the panel ruled in February 2009.
The judges said the reductions would save the financially beleaguered state $803 million to $906 million a year in prison costs.
About eight months after the ruling, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill authorizing the early release of 40,000 inmates over the next two years.
The case accepted Monday by the Supreme Court, Schwarzenegger v. Plata (09-1233), involves lawsuits dating back to 1990 and repeated findings that California’s prison system is too crowded to provide a constitutionally acceptable level of medical and mental health care.