State to Appeal Prisoner Release Order

[UPDATED]  Gov. Jerry Brown isn’t about to open the state prison gates to release even low-level inmates to meet a judge-imposed deadline to end overcrowding.  The state filed a notice Monday that it plans  to appeal the order directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It has been four years since three federal judges told California its prisons were so overcrowded and rife with dangerously poor health care that its inmate population had to be cut by up to 33,000 inmates.

The state isn’t likely to make the Dec. 31, 2013 deadline to release that many inmates.  It is about 10,000 short.

The  judges have had enough and last week stepped in again.  The panel said the state must free hundreds more inmates early by increasing credits for good behavior.

Under the special prison reform law that was the basis for creation of the three-judge panel to oversee the state prison overcrowding issue, any appeal from the panel goes directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In last week’s order, the judges cited the state’s history of “repeated failure to take the necessary steps to remedy the constitutional violations in its prison system.  It is the [state’s] unwillingness to comply with this court’s orders that requires us to order additional relief today and to reiterate the lengthy history of this case.”

The state prisons are currently at 119,000 inmates, about 10,000 more than the target of 109,500, or 137.5% of capacity.

Use of increased good behavior credits could cut the current population of  by 5,300 by the end of the year and with other routine releases could bring the state to its court-ordered level.

“Defendants are ordered to take all steps necessary to implement all measures in the Amended Plan [of population reduction], commencing forthwith, notwithstanding any state or local laws or regulations to the contrary,” the panel wrote.

Brown has balked at taking more steps to expand which prisoners will be released, complaining that it would require changes to state law that he did not want to undertake.

The panel had a response for Brown:  “All such state and local laws and regulations are hereby waived immediately.”

The judges said they would maintain some flexibility by offering three ways to cut the population.  First, the state can give additional good time credit, second, it may identify prisoners at low risk to reoffend, such as those with less than nine months to serve, or aged and seriously ill inmates, and last, the state may add any other measures it wishes, with the permission of the court, so it can ultimately hit the target by Dec. 31, 2013.

The judges signing the order are 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton.

Case:  Plata v. Brown, No. 01-1352