Politics & Government

Judges appoint prison population oversight chief

A panel of three federal judges on Wednesday appointed Elwood Lui, a former associate justice of the California Court of Appeal, as the “compliance officer” empowered to begin releasing state prison inmates if California fails to meet court ordered deadlines to reduce its prisoner population.

Lui was one of two candidates for the position suggested by lawyers representing the state. He has agreed to serve without compensation but to have reasonable expenses reimbursed, according to the order from the panel issued Wednesday afternoon.

The compliance officer position was created through a Feb. 10 order by the court, which comprises 9th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the San Francisco-based Northern District of California and Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California.

The judges originally ordered California in 2009 to cut its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, but appeals delayed that and resulted in the Feb. 10 order giving the state two more years to comply.

The February order also gave the compliance officer authority to release the necessary number of inmates to ensure that California meets the court-ordered deadlines.

The compliance officer now has the authority to release inmates if the prison population is not cut to 143 percent of capacity by June 30 (or 116,651 inmates); to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015 (115,427 inmates); and to 137.5 percent a year after that (112,164 inmates).

Last month, the state told the court that its prison population is about 502 inmates above the June 30 benchmark. The state indicated that it expected to get below the 143 percent mark before the deadline by using some contract prison cells.

Attorneys for the state and the inmates met and tried to agree on who should be appointed to the position, but their talks failed and both sides filed documents with the three-judge court on March 12 suggesting candidates for the position.

The state recommended two candidates: Lui and Curtis J. Hill, a former San Benito County sheriff.

Attorneys for the inmates recommended the appointment of Wendy Still, a Roseville resident who is the chief adult probation officer for the city and county of San Francisco, or Starr Babcock, the former general counsel for the State Bar of California.