Inmate Advocates, Calif. Officials Disagree on Population Cap Strategy
Inmate advocates say California officials can easily achieve a court-ordered population cap in state prisons, but Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) administration disagrees, the Sacramento Bee reports (Stanton/Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 9/7).
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the prison system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
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.
On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the population cap.
In June, three federal judges rejected the plan, ordering Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.
The judges said that the state can use any method under its original plan to reduce the inmate population, but they suggested expanding the use of good behavior credits to expedite prisoner releases.
If the state does not comply with the order by the end of the year, officials will have to release inmates based on a list of "low-risk" offenders, according to the judges.
In July, Brown filed a request with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for a stay of the order. In August, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Brown's request.
The Brown administration then filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the order (California Healthline, 8/12).
Inmate advocates argue that meeting the target is easily within reach for state officials.
Don Specter -- an attorney with the Prison Law Office -- said the California Department of Corrections' "own risk assessment" found that "40% of the inmate population in the ... adult prisons is classified as low-risk."
Such data show that "there is a gigantic pool to choose from" for prisoner releases, Specter said.
He suggested that the state begin releasing inmates who are serving time for simple burglary or who are over 60 years old and have served double or triple their minimum time.
Brown Administration's Response
Brown has repeatedly said that the state cannot and should not release additional inmates to comply with the prison population cap.
Jeffrey Beard -- secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation -- said that as of Aug. 28, the state was within 7,737 inmates of meeting the population cap by the court's Dec. 31 deadline.
However, he said, "There are only about 1,200 inmates with less than a year to serve who are doing time for a nonserious, nonviolent offense and who have no prior serious or violent conviction," adding, "That doesn’t' even get us close to the federal court's demand."
He added that inmates who are incarcerated for drug possession -- who some say should be released to help meet the cap -- in some cases "already had committed a serious or violent felony in the past, are a sex registrant, or have a current serious or violent offense that is stricken or stayed."
Deborah Hoffman -- a CDCR spokesperson -- added that "[l]ow-risk isn't no risk, and low-risk means there is a risk to re-offend" (Sacramento Bee, 9/7).
Inmate Lawyers Ask Court To Reject Brown's Plan
In related news, attorneys for California inmates asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject Brown's request that the court discard the population cap (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 9/6).
The lawyers argued that a plan released by Brown in August would comply with the order and that mass prisoner releases are unnecessary ("PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 9/6).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.