California Loses Bid to Delay Order to Release Prisoners

California lost a bid to delay a court order to expand a program to release some prison inmates early to meet a court mandated Dec. 31 deadline to reduce the state’s prison population.

A three-judge panel, noting that litigation over conditions in the prison system began 23 years ago, denied California Governor Jerry Brown’s request to put its June 20 order on hold while he seeks review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Delaying the order would injure prisoners who are affected by poor mental-health and medical-care conditions that will be eased by fewer patients, the court said. The state won’t be harmed because it’s already planning to reduce the inmate population and it hasn’t shown that there’s a danger in releasing some inmates early for good behavior, it said.

“The public interest lies in obviating the ongoing constitutional violations in the mental and medical health-care systems in California’s prisons -– violations that this court and the Supreme Court have determined will be eliminated only when defendants reduce the prison population from its current state of 149.2 percent design capacity to 137.5 percent design capacity,” the judges said today.

Federal judges stripped California of control of its prison health-care system in 2006 after inmates filed a legal challenge to its quality. The judges ordered the state to cut its prison population to 137 percent of capacity from 175 percent, saying overcrowding was a cause of the inadequate care. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that order in May 2011.

The case is Plata v. Schwarzenegger, 3:01-cv-01351, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at kgullo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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