Brown’s Lawyers Refute Contempt Calls in Prison Overcrowding Case
On Wednesday, attorneys for Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said the governor should not be held in contempt of court for failing to meet a prison population cap because it is the responsibility of the Legislature to reduce overcrowding in such facilities, the Los Angeles Times' "PolitiCal" reports (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 5/29).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the state's prison health care system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Brown implemented a plan to reduce the prison population by shifting many inmates from state prisons to county jails.
In April, a panel of federal judges rejected Brown's request to end a court-mandated prison population cap. The judges ruled that the cap is necessary to address substandard conditions that have resulted in unconstitutionally poor inmate care.
In their ruling, the judges said Brown had provided "no convincing evidence" that prison overcrowding is no longer a problem.
As of April, the prison population was at 150% of capacity, or 9,000 more inmates than the court-ordered cap.
Compliance in Question
On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the order.
However, Brown on May 13 filed a notice of appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court over the cap. Brown says that he plans to delay the implementation of his proposal during the appeals process.
Later that week, lawyers for California inmates asked a three-judge panel to find Brown and a state prison official in contempt of court for not complying with federal orders to further reduce the prison population (California Healthline, 5/16).
In a legal filing, Brown's lawyers said that the state has not "outright refused" to obey the court order. They said that prisoners' attorneys are under a "flawed assumption that the governor and the other executive defendants can direct the actions of the Legislature."
However, "PolitiCal" reports that Brown has not requested funding or introduced legislation to implement certain prison population-reduction plans.Brown's lawyers also reiterated their argument that further efforts to decrease the state's inmate population would "undermine the population reduction gains already achieved under realignment" ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 5/29). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.