Judges won’t raise cap on California prison population
A panel of federal judges says it won’t raise its cap on California’s prison population but will consider giving Gov. Jerry Brown more time to produce plan for meeting it.
“This Court is not inclined to permit relitigation of the proper population cap at this time,” federal jurists said in an order issued Friday. But they said they would consider extending the state’s deadline until the end of 2013 -- an additional four months -- if California provides plans for reaching the judges’ goal.
Friday’s order comes two days after one of the jurists rejected California’s request to resume control over prison medical care.
State officials had little immediate comment Friday. “We are evaluating the order,” said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The cap has been the subject of years of litigation and rulings, ultimately upheld last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found conditions in state prisons so dire they amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
California officials this summer acknowledged that Brown’s realignment plan, shifting responsibility for low-level offenders to county jails and parole offices, would fall short of the court’s crowding limit. The state balked at the court’s August order requiring it to say how quickly it could therefore begin releasing inmates, prompting a rebuke Friday.
“Defendants may not ignore an order from this Court,” the jurists said, giving California until Sept. 17 to provide the requested timetable and to outline what other emergency measures Brown could order, including more sentence reductions for inmates with good behavior.
Lawyers representing inmates had asked the judges to hold California in contempt for ignoring their order. Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office, said he was “very pleased” with Friday’s answer.
“It’s a forceful rejection of the state’s position, which didn’t have a lot of merit in the first place,” Specter said.
The three judges want the inmate population at no more than 137.5% of capacity. That represents a little more than 112,000 inmates spread out over 33 prisons where there are now 119,882 offenders.
--Paige St. John
Photo: Inmates at Lancaster in June 2010. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times