Judges reject state's request for more time on prisoner release

Published: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 8:47 am

A panel of three federal judges overseeing California's prison overcrowding case on Wednesday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's request for a stay of their order that the state immediately begin reducing its inmate population.

The state had asked for a stay of the June 20 order that it cut the inmate population by nearly 10,000 prisoners by the end of the year, seeking a delay while it pursued an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the three-judge panel rejected the request, reiterating its earlier finding that California has defied orders to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of this year.

The current population is about 149.2 percent of capacity, or about 119,000 inmates, and the court order requires that to be cut to about 110,000.

The judges noted that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 upheld their finding that inmate populations had to be reduced to afford inmates proper access to health care and mental health services.

"After this long history of defendants' noncompliance, this court cannot in good conscience grant a stay that would allow defendants to both not satisfy the Population Reduction Order and re-litigate the Supreme Court's emphatic decision in the very case before us," the order concluded.

The state immediately signaled that it plans to continue its fight.

"We will seek a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court," corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said in a statement. "In the meantime, our appeal of the three-judge court's unprecedented order to release nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of this year is in progress, and we look forward to making our case to the Supreme Court justices that no further reduction in the prison population is needed."

But the judges' order was praised by the director of the Prison Law Office, which represents the inmates in the cases.

"The state has had four years to comply with this order," Donald Spector said. "The court's most recent order means they can't get away with not doing (it). … They have to comply now."

The judges noted that the cases which led to the inmate reduction order have been pending for 23 years and 12 years, respectively, and that more than 150 orders seeking state compliance have been issued in the matter.

The panel – U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton in Sacramento, U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson in San Francisco and Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – concluded that granting a stay while the issue went to the nation's highest court would extend the overcrowding well past the end of the year.

The judges also noted that it is unlikely the Supreme Court would reverse its own conclusion from 2011 that the prisons are dangerously overcrowded.

Call The Bee's Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091. Follow him on Twitter @stantonsam.

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