No Excuses, State Must Cut Inmate Population

Mule Creek Prison (CA Corrections)

California must take “immediate steps” to get its prison population down to the court-ordered 137 percent of capacity by the end of 2013, a special three-judge panel told Gov. Jerry Brown Thursday.

Despite the governor’s push to get the judge’s to relax the numbers, the court refused and gave the state three weeks to submit its plan for meeting that deadline.

The three judges told the state, if they can’t do it any other way then they must consider releasing prisoners who are unlikely to reoffend and grant early release, if they can’t reach the 137.5 percent cap any other way.

The federal judges took control of the state’s prison health-care system in 2006 base on a finding that health care was so poor it violated inmate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The panel then determined the overcrowding in the state’s 33 prisons, which reached more than 175 percent of capacity, was a central cause of poor health care.

The governor had told the court the state could not meet the deadline and asked the judges to raise the cap.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the three-judge panel had the power to order early release of inmates, if the state failed to comply through less onerous methods.

“Given the passage of time and defendants’ failure to take all steps necessary to comply with our ourder thus far, we now order [the state prison officials] to develop a system to identify prisoners who are unlikely to reoffend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release, to the extent that they have not already done so,” wrote Judges Stephen Reinhardt, Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton.

They must come up with an early release plan, even if the state meets the prison cap by the deadline. They have 100 days to submit the early release plan to the court.

In addition, the judges told the Governor the prison officials must describe each measure they plan to take to reach the population cap and if they don’t believe they have legal authority to act, then what laws or regulations stand in the way.

The judges have clearly reached their limit of hearing excuses from the state.

The court also wants to know how the plan provides a long-range solution so that the cap is not breached in the future.

Case: Plata v. Brown, No. c01-1351TEH




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