Carter G. Phillips, an attorney representing California, called the order "extraordinary and unprecedented" and said that it would force the state to release thousands of prisoners. He said that the state was making progress in improving prison conditions on its own and that the federal court should not interfere with the state's progress.
The case stems from two separate lawsuits that had been wending their way through California courts for years challenging the health care available in the prison system.
Citing horrific prison conditions, lawyers for the prisoners argued in court briefs that because of overcrowding the state has failed to meet its obligation "to ensure the safety of guards and prison personnel , the public and the prisoners themselves."
Donald Specter, of Prison Law Office, a non-profit law firm dedicated to prisoner's rights, represented the prisoners and released a statement praising the decision. "This landmark decision will not only help prevent prisoners from dying of malpractice and neglect, but it will make the prisons safer for the staff, improve public safety and save the taxpayers billions of dollars."
The court took the unusual step of including pictures in its ruling that depicted the conditions in the prisons including so called "dry cages" meant to serve as holding cells for those prisoners waiting to receive mental health care.