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California Loses Bid to Cancel Prison Inmate Reductions

California was ordered to reduce its prison population to 137 percent of capacity by the end of the year by federal judges who denied Governor Jerry Brown’s request to cancel court-mandated cuts because of improvements to inmate-care programs.

The evidence “fails to demonstrate a significant or unanticipated change in circumstances” and the state hasn’t come up with a sustainable remedy to fix the quality of the prison system, given that 9,500 more prisoners will be housed when California eliminates an out-of-state prisoner program, the three-judge panel said in a ruling yesterday.

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.

California’s prisons remain at about 150 percent capacity, above the ceiling set by the courts.

The panel ordered the state to submit within 21 days a plan to carry out the order and a list of measures that could be taken to make the cuts, including an estimate of the number of prisoners who would be released as a result.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was reviewing the ruling, Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the department, said yesterday. Callison declined to immediately comment on it.

California has a prison population of 197,963, including those housed out of state, the state said in an April 3 report.

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

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