State Gets Six Month Reprieve on Prison Overcrowding

Mule Creek Prison (CA Corrections)

In one court order, California prison officials got a gift and face slap. The special three-judge court gave prison officials six more months to meet the population cap of 137.5 percent of capacity in the state’s 33 prisons.

But at the same time, the judges were unhappy the state has not made clear whether it plans to seek termination of court control of the medical care portion of the massive case. Although the state has filed papers seeking an end of court supervision in the mental health portion of the case, it did not make a similar filing in the medical care portion. The state had a January 22 deadline to make such a filing. Now the judges are confused.

“It would be a waste of judicial resources for this court to begin to determine any issue until it is made aware of defendants’ filing plans regarding the constitutional question,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

The state was given two weeks to tell the judges if they plan to claim medical care is now resolved constitutional problems with respect to medical care, and if so, when do they plan to file such a motion?

The judges said they won’t act on the state’s mental health claim that they no longer violate the constitution until the state clarifies its plans.

The federal court took control of the California prisons after it was determined in two separate class actions that physical care and mental health care were so deficient they were unconstitutional. The court placed a receiver in charge of overseeing improvements.

Overcrowded prison conditions were seen as a major contributing factor that prevented improved health care for inmates. The court set a June 2013 deadline for reducing prison populations to 137.5 percent of capacity. Because the state can’t meet that deadline, the court pushed it back to Dec. 31, 2013.

Case: Plata v. Brown, No. 01-cv-1351TEH


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