California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] on Thursday indicated that he would ask a federal judge for more time to construct his plan to reduce the state's prison population. The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] ruled [opinion, PDF] last week in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] to uphold an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners to remedy the state's overcrowded prisons [JURIST news archive]. Brown said it would take more than two years to submit a plan [LAT report] to a three-judge panel, far longer than the two-week timeline offered by the high court. Brown plans to shift prisoners to county jails in an attempt to decrease state prison populations. His plans will be undermined if voters, who were recently polled as against spending more tax money on prisons, reject his recent tax proposal [LAT report].
Overcrowding has been a significant problem for California prisons for many years. In August 2009, a special panel of federal judges ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] California to reduce its prison population by approximately 46,000 inmates or construct more facilities to handle the prisoners. It is apparent that California is unable to build the prisons and will have to release the prisoners. California has also considered plans to release some inmates early, in light of its budget crisis. In July 2009, state lawmakers passed a budget with $1.2 billion in cuts to the prison system, but no specific plan was formulated [AFP report]. The same panel of judges issued a tentative ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February, reaching the same conclusion. At that time, Brown, acting as Attorney General, opposed the decision, commenting [press release], "[t]he court's tentative ruling is not constitutionally justified. Therefore, the state will appeal directly to the US Supreme Court when the final order is issued." In August 2008, California's court-appointed prison medical overseer J. Clark Kelso [official profile] asked the court to force the state to pay $8 billion [JURIST report] over the next five years to improve prison hospitals and bring inmate health care up to constitutional standards. Two months earlier, a California court ruled [JURIST report] that the state constitution permitted easing overcrowding by transferring prisoners to out-of-state facilities. The transfers had been ordered in an emergency proclamation [text; JURIST report] issued by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006.