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Politics

Gov. Brown Fights Federal Order On California Prison Population Cap

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California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer looks on as inmates at Chino State Prison exercise in the yard. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Gov. Jerry Brown announced Tuesday he’s lifting a more than six-year state of emergency that’s existed in California’s overcrowded prisons and he wants the federal courts to end their oversight of the system.

In an exclusive interview with KCBS after his announcement, Brown said the “prisons are not overcrowded as a matter of fact,” and that the number of prisoners the state needs to reduce as stipulated by the courts is “arbitrary.”

The governor contended that conditions in the state prison system have improved enough to a point where further population reductions aren’t necessary. Brown has asked a federal three-judge panel to lift an order requiring the state to reduce the number of inmates in its prisons to 110,000 by June.

Brown said the difference now is time and money, claiming that over the last three years hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent along with investments in staffing to provide adequate health, dental and mental-health care to the state’s prisoners.

The state’s prison population reduction was ordered in 2009 by the three-judge panel acting on a lawsuit in which inmates claimed that prison health care was so deficient that it amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

The panel concluded that severe overcrowding was a primary cause of poor health care and ordered the state to decrease the population of its 33 adult prisons to 110,000 inmates, or 137 percent of the designed capacity.

At the time, the prisons housed 150,000 inmates in facilities designed for 80,000.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling in 2011, saying that the “grossly inadequate” health care was unconstitutional.

The prison population has now fallen to 119,000, as a result of several measures, including the so-called “realignment” process in which some
low-level offenders were transferred to county jails.

According to Brown, evidence shows and experts will attest the prison system has improved and he’s confident that when his argument goes before judges, it will be considerably stronger.

“California is doing well by our prisoners and we should not be putting more and more money into this system or letting out more and more people.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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