California won a four-week extension to Jan. 27 of a court order to reduce the state’s prison population, after asking a panel of judges to push the deadline out to 2016.
The judges ordered state officials and lawyers for prisoners to meet with a court-appointed referee to discuss how the original Dec. 31 deadline can be met, and whether an extension is needed, according to a filing yesterday in federal court in San Francisco. The referee has until Oct. 21 to make recommendations to the panel.
California Governor Jerry Brown asked the court to extend the deadline to December 2016 to avoid spending hundreds of millions of dollars to rent private cells to remove 10,000 prisoners from state facilities. This month, he won state lawmakers’ approval of a plan to spend more than $1 billion to rent thousands of cells owned by Corrections Corp. of America and Geo Group Inc. to temporarily meet the current deadline.
“During the meet-and-confer process and until further order of the court, defendants shall not enter into any contracts or other arrangements to lease additional capacity in out-of-state facilities or otherwise increase the number of inmates who are housed in out-of-state facilities,” judges said in yesterday’s order.
California’s prison system, which operated at 200 percent of designed capacity for more than a decade, was at 143.8 percent as of Sept. 4, with 123,777 inmates, according to a Corrections and Rehabilitation Department report. The state must reduce the number of prisoners to 137.5 percent of design capacity.
A prisoner lawsuit led federal judges to seize control of the prison health system in 2006, saying inmate care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment and violated the U.S. Constitution. That led to the order to reduce inmate numbers.
The case is Plata v. Brown, 01-cv-01351, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).