SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — Federal judges are giving California two more years to meet a court-ordered inmate population cap.

But in doing so, they are appointing a compliance officer who will release inmates early if the state fails to meet interim benchmarks or the final goal.

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The order on Monday from a three-judge panel delays an April deadline to reduce the population to about 112,164 inmates.

California remains more than 5,000 inmates over a limit set by the courts, even though the state has built more prison space and used some private cells.

The governor said having an extra two years to cut another 5,500 inmates from the state’s overcrowded prisons will make California safer but Republican State Sen. Jim Nielsen said it will have the opposite effect.

“Now life inmates—that’s a murder first, murder second, a kidnap for purpose or three-strike career criminal, who has two serious and violent prior felonies—are going to be given an early release,” Nielsen said.

Michael Bien, attorney for the inmates, agrees the court order is a dangerous mistake because it will extend cruel and unusual conditions—not because of who will get out complying with the cap.

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“There are still large segments of California’s prison population that are safe and appropriate to be discharged some time before the absolute completion of their term,” he said.

Santa Clara University School of Law professor David Ball said the court is appointing a compliance officer to set inmates free, if the governor can not do it through time off for good behavior, and paroling older and infirm inmates.

“I don’t think the three-judge panel wants to micromanage it. I think they just really want to say, ‘Please State of California, clean up your own mess,’” he said.

Under Monday’s order, California has until Feb. 28, 2016, to reduce the number of its inmate population in its 34 adult prisons — designed to hold 81,574 inmates — to 137.5 percent of its current design capacity.

State prisons now house roughly 117,600 inmates. The order requires the number to be reduced to 112,164.

The panel of three federal judges will also bar the state from making further appeals, sending inmates out of state and require that California meet certain benchmarks along the way.

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