Judges Give Calif. Four Additional Weeks To Curb Prison Population
On Tuesday, a panel of federal judges rejected a request made by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for an additional three years to meet a court-ordered reduction of the state prison population but granted California an additional four weeks to meet the cap, Reuters reports (Whitcomb, Reuters, 9/24).
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 June, three federal judges ordered Brown to release about 9,600 inmates -- or 8% of the inmate population -- by 2014.
Details of Compromise Plan, Extension Request
Earlier this month, Brown signed a compromise prison population reduction plan (SB 105) that he developed with Democratic lawmakers.
Under the plan:
- Brown agreed to ask federal judges for an extension to comply with the population cap;
- 2,500 state inmates will be sent to county jails, community correctional facilities and a private prison in the state;
- No additional prisoners will be sent to out-of-state facilities; and
- Funding for prisoner rehabilitation efforts will increase by $100 million beginning July 1, 2014 (California Healthline, 9/17).
Judges Grant One-Month Extension
Tuesday's ruling gives the administration until Jan. 27, 2014, to comply with the prison population reduction order.
The judges also ordered the state and inmates' attorneys to "meet and confer" during that time on "a durable solution to the prison crowding problem." They said both sides should discuss state policies regarding:
- Juvenile inmates;
- Inmates held under California's three-strikes law;
- Elderly and sick prisoners;
- Inmates being held under the purview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and
- Inmates deemed to be "low risk."
The judges said that attorneys "may also discuss any necessary or desirable extension" of the compliance deadline. However, the judges ordered the state not to "enter into any contracts or other arrangement to lease additional [prison space] in out-of-state facilities."
According to the ruling, the appellate judge Peter Siggins will oversee the discussions and will report back to the panel on Oct. 21 with suggestions on how to proceed (Stanton, Sacramento Bee, 9/25).
The judges' three-page order said that Siggins will "immediately report to the court if, at any time, he determines that further discussions between the parties would be unproductive" (Reuters, 9/24).
Response From Administration, Steinberg
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it is "reviewing the order" and declined to comment on the one-month extension.
In a statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D) called the extension a "positive development" that will provide "an opportunity for the parties to craft a longer-term extension" (Sacramento Bee, 9/25).
Reaction From Prisoners' Advocates
Following the ruling, Donald Specter -- executive director of the Prison Law Office -- said, "We've been litigating this since November 2006, so a one-month delay is not really significant in that context."
Specter added, "One month to figure out if we can get a sustainable solution to this whole program is well worth it" (Verdin, AP/Orange County Register, 9/24).
Specter said "it's a possibility" that inmates' attorneys could reach an agreement with the administration, but he does not believe the extension issued Tuesday signals that judges would be willing to grant the state further postponements (Sacramento Bee, 9/25).
Kim Horiuchi -- director of criminal justice policy at the American Civil Liberties Union's Northern California chapter -- said she is "hopeful" that the state will use the extension to negotiate with inmates' attorneys (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 9/24).
Supreme Court Developments
Meanwhile, the state on Tuesday filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court asking justices to reject a request by prisoners' attorneys to dismiss an appeal of the release order (Reuters, 9/24).
In August, Brown's administration filed an appeal of the release order with the high court (California Healthline, 8/12).
In a statement, Deborah Hoffman -- CDCR spokesperson -- said that the administration has "made a strong case for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the state's appeal because the three-judge Court rejected our showing that the population cap is no longer needed without ever examining the tremendous improvements to the prison health care system" in California (Reuters, 9/24).
Headlines and links to broadcast coverage of the judges' order are provided below.
- "California Gets One Month Reprieve on Prisons Order" (Orr, “KXJZ News,” Capital Public Radio, 9/24).
- "Judges Extend Deadline in California Prison Overcrowding" ("KPCC News," AP/KPCC, 9/24).