Judges Order Calif. To Release 9,600 Prisoners by End of Year
On Thursday, three federal judges ordered Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) administration to release 9,600 state prisoners -- about 8% of the inmate population -- by the end of the year to reduce prison overcrowding, the Los Angeles Times reports (St. John, Los Angeles Times, 6/20).
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.
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.
On May 2, Brown filed a proposal to comply with the population cap.
However, Brown on May 13 filed a notice of appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court over the cap. Brown said that he plans to delay the implementation of his proposal during the appeals process (California Healthline, 6/20).
Details of the Order
The federal judges who issued Thursday's order were Henderson, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt.
The order would reduce the state prison population to 137.5% of capacity, from the current level of 149.8% of capacity.
In addition, the order would require the state to report on its progress every two weeks, instead of its current monthly reporting requirement.
The judges saidÂ they would grantÂ no further delays to inmate population reduction efforts. In addition, they ordered waivers for any state laws or procedures that could postpone the release of prisoners (Stanton/Walsh, Sacramento Bee, 6/21).
The judges said that the state can use any method 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 (Los Angeles Times, 6/20).
If Brown does not comply with the order, he could be held in contempt of court (Sacramento Bee, 6/21).
The administration has until July 13 to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court (Los Angeles Times, 6/20).
Following the ruling, Brown in a statement said, "The state will seek an immediate stay of this unprecedented order to release almost 10,000 inmates by the end of this year."
Law enforcement officials and Republican lawmakers joined Brown in criticizing the ruling, calling it "outrageous" and "dangerous."
In a release, Kim Raney -- Covina Police Chief and president of the California Police Chiefs Association -- said the judges are "putting the concerns of convicted felons before the safety of our communities" (Joseph, Orange County Register, 6/20).
Inmate Advocates' Response
Michael Bien, lead attorney representing the inmates, called the ruling a "win, win, win situation," saying that the "administration knows how to identify prisoners that can safely be released" (Sacramento Bee, 6/21). Bien added, "There was a trial. They lost ... It's time to comply with the order" (Orr, Capital Public Radio, 6/20).
Don Specter, lead lawyer with the Prison Law Office, said that Brown "must make every effort to comply immediately" with the order because he "is an inch away" from facing a contempt-of-court charge (St. John, "PolitiCal," Los Angeles Times, 6/20).
Broadcast CoverageOn Thursday, the AP/KPCC's "KPCC News" reported on the judges' ruling ("KPCC News," AP/KPCC, 6/20). 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.