Judges Deny Calif.’s Bid To Cancel Court Orders To Cut Prison Population
On Thursday, a panel of federal judges rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) request to end a court-mandated reduction to the state's prison population because of improvements to inmate medical care, Bloomberg reports (Gullo, Bloomberg, 4/12).
The three U.S. District Judges on the panel were:
- Thelton Henderson in San Francisco;
- Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento; and
- Stephen Reinhardt in Los Angeles (Megerian, Los Angeles Times, 4/11).
In 2006, Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the state's prison health care system was neededÂ after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
To help curb prison overcrowding, Brown developed a plan to send inmates convicted of lower-level crimes to county jails.
This fiscal year, counties will receive about $865 million to house more inmates under prison realignment efforts. That amount is expected to surpass $1 billion next fiscal year (California Healthline, 3/19).
In January, Brown's administration filed a request for a federal court to allow the state to regain oversight of the prison system.
The request stated that California has reduced its inmate population and improved prison medical and mental health care.
However, a report issued in January by Special Master Matthew Lopes said Brown's request to end federal oversight of the state prison system was premature (California Healthline, 4/3).
California prisons currently hold 119,542 inmates, 149.5% of the number they were designed to accommodate, according to a recent report from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Details of Ruling
The judges ruled that the court-ordered prison population caps are 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.
The judges ordered the state to reduce its prison population to 137.5% of capacity, or by about 9,500 inmates, by the end of the year.
The original deadline for the population reduction was June, but the judges provided the state with a six-month extension.
In addition, the judge said the state must submit within 21 days a plan to carry out the order.
Brown and other state officials could be held in contempt of court if they do not meet the deadline to produce a plan, the judges warned (Los Angeles Times, 4/11).
CDCR said it plans to appeal the ruling (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 4/11).
Deborah Hoffman -- CDCR assistant secretary -- said, "The truth of the matter is that California has invested more than a billion dollars to transform its prison health care system into one of the best in the country."
She added, "Our prisons now provide timely and effective health care to inmates that far exceeds what the Constitution requires" (Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 4/12). Further inmate reductions would jeopardize public safety, Hoffman said (Mintz, Contra Costa Times, 4/11).
On Friday, Brown -- who is in China for a week-long trade mission -- said his administration will not comply with the federal court order to reduce the state's prison population. He said state officials will litigate "until the Supreme Court tells us that we're not on the right track" (Siders, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 4/12).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.