State Files Court-Ordered Plan To Reduce Prison Population

Gov. Jerry Brown and state prison officials have reluctantly filed a plan in federal court in San Francisco to reduce California’s prison population by 9,300 inmates by using alternate facilities, leased space in county jails and out-of-state prisons.

A small number of prisoners—less than 650 — would be released early because of extra credit for good conduct or through early parole of low-risk ill or elderly convicts, under the plan.

But any more early releases would “jeopardize the public safety,” state lawyers wrote in the brief.

The plan, filed shortly before a midnight deadline Thursday, was ordered last month by a three-judge federal panel, which threatened to find Brown and other executives in contempt of court if they failed to produce a plan.

“We respect the court’s authority to order the list of measures, but we submitted it under protest,” said California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Secretary Jeffrey Beard.

The judges are presiding over two long-running civil rights cases that challenged medical and mental health care in the state’s 33 adult prisons.

In 2009, the panel concluded that severe overcrowding was the primary cause of “woefully and unconstitutionally inadequate” health care and ordered officials to reduce the population of the prisons to 137.5 percent of capacity, or a little more than 110,000 inmates.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision in 2011.

The number of inmates has been reduced from 150,000 in 2009 to 119,500 as of last week, with much of the decrease caused by the realignment policy of moving low-level offenders to county jails.

Brown and Beard contend that health care now meets constitutional standards and no further reduction is needed, but the three-judge panel rejected that argument in its April 11 ruling. It said the final reduction of 9,300 must be completed by Dec. 31.

Beard said Thursday that while the state complied with the order to file a plan, it still intends to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

The plan would decrease the prison population by moving 3,750 inmates to fire camps; housing 1,600 in available space leased from Alameda and Los Angeles county jails; and keeping up to 3,600 inmates in private out-of-state prisons longer than currently projected.

The proposed early release or parole of 650 prisoners would require changes in state laws, as would the leasing of county jail space, the filing said.

State lawyers also wrote in the filing that the Legislature could appropriate funds to lease space in private prisons in California, but said that security retrofitting of such prisons could not be completed until 2014.

In addition, a new health care facility due to open in Stockton in July will increase prison capacity by 1,700 beds, the filing said.

Emily Harris, a spokeswoman for Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a coalition of prisoner advocacy groups, criticized the plan for a lack of emphasis on sentencing and parole reform.

“The proposal just continues to shuffle people around,” she said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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