Facing U.S. court order, California asks for three-year prison extension

sstanton@sacbee.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Facing a federal court order to cut its inmate population by about 8,500 inmates by the end of the year, California officials asked a federal court panel late Monday to grant a three-year extension to ensure that mass inmate releases do not occur.

A panel of three federal judges had ordered the state to submit detailed plans by Monday on how it would cut the population in its 34 adult prisons to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of the year.

But Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration instead asked for the postponement, noting that legislation he signed last week, Senate Bill 105, is designed to ease California’s overcrowding crisis without the need to release inmates early.

“SB 105 appropriates $315 million to be used for a mix of increased prison capacity and long term reforms to control prison crowding,” the state said in its court filing.

That measure relies on increased prison capacity, use of county jail space to house inmates and increased reliance on drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

“But these further reforms will take time to develop - time that does not exist under the current end-of-the-year deadline,” the state said in its court filing.

The state’s solution is to ask for an extension until the end of 2016 to reduce inmate populations to the required level, but even without an extension the state says it will not rely on a mass release of inmates.

The population as of Sept. 11 was at 147.1 percent, or 120,027 inmates, meaning about 8,500 inmates would have to be moved out of the state prisons to meet the judges’ requirements.

The state said that it has “completed the framework for an early release system which identifies and categorizes offenders” who could be released, if necessary. But state officials argue there is no way to safely release enough inmates to meet the court order and the state said in its court filing that it does not anticipate needing to resort to early releases even if the judges do not grant an extension of the deadline.

Instead, the state said it would use funds from passage of SB 105 to lease more prison cell space in California and in private, out-of-state prisons to get to 137.5 percent or 112,164 inmates by the end of this year. There already are 9,000 inmates housed out of state.

Most of the reductions in the state inmate population would rely on out-of-state cells if the extension is not granted.

The state noted that time is critical and asked the judges for a decision by Sept. 27.

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