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State misses prison benchmark on overcrowding

January 16, 2013 |  9:52 am

It's official. In a federal court filing Tuesday, California told federal judges that its prisons remain crowded beyond benchmarks set by the court nearly two years ago.

The state said its 33 prisons on average are at 149.4% of design capacity. Nearly half of the individual prisons are much higher than that: 172% at North Kern State Prison, 187% at the Central California Women's Facility, and the men's section of Valley State Prison in Chowchilla is now at almost 352%.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Wednesday that the last female inmates at Valley State have been moved out, freeing up 1,536 beds that can now be used for the male prisoners housed there. Starting next week, the state will begin moving female inmates into a converted 403-bed women's facility adjacent to Folsom State Prison.

The court-ordered target was 147% crowding by Dec. 27, and California is required to bring its prison population down to 137.5% capacity by June 30, a target the state for months now has admitted it can't meet.

The state's monthly status report to the court notes what Gov. Jerry Brown made very public last week -- that California contends it has improved living conditions within its prisons to the point it no longer needs to meet court-ordered caps on prison crowding.

"Based on the evidence submitted in support of the state's motions, further population reductions are not needed because the prison system already provides healthcare that far exceeds what is legally required under the Constitution," lawyers for the state told federal judges Tuesday.

The three judges, each overseeing class actions over inmate medical, dental and mental healthcare, have not yet responded to California's motions to shed federal oversight of the prisons. The state's federally appointed healthcare receiver, J. Clark Kelso, is expected later this month to provide his own report on the status of medical care in those prisons.


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--Paige St. John in Sacramento

--updated 10:57 a.m. to note transfer of female inmates out of Valley State Prison.