SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday rejected an appeal by Gov. Jerry Brown of a court order that requires the state to reduce the population of its overcrowded prisons by about 8,000 inmates by Jan. 27.
Donald Specter, a lawyer for prisoners who sued the state over what they claimed was unconstitutionally poor medical care, said, “We’re very happy.
“We think it was the right decision. It puts an end to Governor Brown’s failed legal strategy of challenging the three-judge court,” Specter said.
The order was originally issued by a panel of three federal judges in 2009 and previously upheld by the high court in 2011. The panel said the reduction was necessary to correct “woefully inadequate” care caused by severe overcrowding.
But Brown argued in the state’s most recent appeal that circumstances had changed because health care in the prisons has now improved and the population has been reduced, although not to the level set by the judicial panel.
The order requires the state to decrease the population of its 34 adult prisons to 137.5 percent of their designed capacity of 112,164. With a current population of 120,359, that would mandate a reduction of 8,195 inmates.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said, “In the last two years, California has made the most significant reforms to our criminal justice system in decades, reducing the prison population by 25,000 inmates.
“While we’re disappointed the state’s case won’t be heard, under SB105 California will continue to build on these landmark reforms with our law enforcement and local government partners,” Hoffman said.
SB105, signed by Brown last month, allows the state to spend $315 million to house inmates in private prisons and county jails instead of state prisons.
CDCR spokeswoman Dana Simas said the state recently signed contracts with three private prisons in Kern and San Bernardino counties to house about 3,800 inmates, which would narrow the additional reduction mandated by the court order to 4,400.
The inmates are currently being transferred, and the guards in those prisons will be trained and employed as state correctional officers, Simas said.
Tuesday’s dismissal of Brown’s appeal was the second time this year the high court ruled against him. On Aug. 2, the Supreme Court turned down his request for a stay while it considered the appeal.
In another development, lawyers for Brown and the prisoners are currently engaged in confidential settlement talks concerning Brown’s request for an extension of the population-cap deadline until 2016.
The meet-and-confer talks were ordered by the three-judge federal court on Sept. 24 and are being facilitated by state Court of Appeal Justice Peter Siggins of San Francisco.
The panel ordered the two sides to consider Brown’s request for an extension, but also to discuss ways of meeting the current deadline and ensuring “a durable solution to the prison crowding problem” including earlier release of elderly, ill and low-risk prisoners.
The order extended an earlier population-cap deadline of Dec. 31 to the current deadline of Jan. 27. Siggins was instructed to report informally to the panel by Oct. 21 on the status of the discussions and on any recommendations he may have.
The three-judge panel is made up of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles and U.S. district judges Thelton Henderson of San Francisco and Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento.
Henderson is presiding over an inmates’ civil rights lawsuit challenging prison medical care and Karlton is presiding over a lawsuit concerning mental health care.
The panel was convened under a federal law that provides that in prison civil rights cases, an order to reduce inmate population can be made only by a three-judge court, rather than by a single judge, and only as a last resort.
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