Gov. Jerry Brown contends California no longer needs to reduce overcrowding in the state's prisons.
Federal judges had given the state until midnight Monday to file plans showing how California would meet federal caps on prison populations. Instead, in a motion filed late in the day, the governor's lawyers asked the judges to lift those caps.
"The overcrowding and healthcare conditions cited by this court to support its
population reduction order are now a distant memory," the state’s lawyers contend.
The governor takes his case on the road Tuesday, with scheduled press conferences in Sacramento and Los Angeles.
Brown's own bid to reduce prison crowding centered on making low-level offenders the responsibility of counties. It has fallen short of the numbers needed, and corrections officials report little change in the state's prison population since September. Nevertheless, the governor insists medical care has improved to levels the court should deem acceptable.
Three federal judges overseeing class action lawsuits over inmate medical, dental and mental health care have threatened since 2007 to require California to release inmates from the state's dangerously overcrowded prisons. The state contends that to remove additional prisoners would put public safety at risk, and that it is up to the Legislature to take other steps such as changing the sentencing laws.
Meanwhile, state prison reports show that since November, California has been increasing the number of inmates shipped out of state. Brown last year said he intended to end the state's contracts with private prison operator Corrections Corp. of America as a way to save money.
According to a July research brief for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, the state currently spends more than $426 million a year to buy
space at prisons operated by the Tennessee-based company. (The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation contends the spending is much lower: $316 million.) The
number of out-of-state inmates has run from a high of 10,000 in 2010 to a low
of 8,500 last October. State prison
population reports show it rose to more than 8,900 in late December.
Going over 9,038 would require modification of California’s contract with CCA.
“There’s always an availability of capacity,” said CCA spokesman
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-- Paige St. John in Sacramento
Updated 4 p.m. Jan. 8, to attribute source of state spending on out-of-state contracts. The amount is disputed by the state.