A federal court panel ordered the Schwarzenegger administration today to come up with a new plan within three weeks to reduce prison overcrowding or risk having the court create and enforce its own plan.

A three-judge panel rejected a proposal submitted by state officials last month for decreasing the number of California inmates by 18,000 over the next two years.

The panel said that filing “does not comply” with its Aug. 4 order requiring a plan to reduce the population of California’s severely overcrowded prisons by 40,000 during that period.

The court issued the Aug. 4 order in two lawsuits challenging prison medical and mental health care. It said the reduction was needed to correct “woefully and constitutionally inadequate” health care.

The panel said that if the administration does not submit an adequate plan, “the court will be left with no alternative but to develop a plan independently and order it implemented forthwith.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office said the administration will respond to the new order by Nov. 12. The state is also appealing the Aug. 4 order to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state’s 33 adult prisons currently operate at 188 percent of capacity with 150,000 inmates in facilities built for 80,000.

The Aug. 4 order required a plan for a reduction to 137.5 percent of capacity, which would mean 40,000 fewer inmates in the existing prisons.

The three-judge panel is made up of U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson of San Francisco and Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento, who are presiding over the two lawsuits, and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

Under a U.S. law governing prisoner civil rights lawsuits, an order to reduce a prison population can be made only by a three-judge panel and not by a federal trial judge acting alone.

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