Federal judges grant California extension to reduce prison overcrowding

[JURIST] A panel of three federal judges in California on Monday granted [order, PDF] the state an extension [text, PDF] until February 28, 2016, to reduce overcrowding in its massive prison system. The California prison system currently houses about 120,000 inmates but is only designed to hold about 80,000. Included in the order is the appointment of a compliance officer to oversee the reforms along with monthly progress reports, and three notable benchmarks: a reduction in the prison population to 143 percent of capacity by June 30, 2014, to 141.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2015, and to 137.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2016. The state must also implement a system of credits for good behavior, alternative incarceration proposals for female inmates, and redesign the parole system for inmates over 60 years old or who have served 25 or more years in prison. The court noted [opinion, PDF] California's reluctance to comply with these orders, while encouraging California's new proposals for reform:

Thus, while we are reluctant to extend the deadline for two more years, we also acknowledge that defendants have agreed that, with such an extension, they will implement measures that should result in a durable solution to prison overcrowding in California. We recognize that these measures should have been adopted much earlier, that plaintiffs' lawyers have made unceasing efforts to obtain immediate relief on behalf of their clients, and that California prisoners deserve far better treatment than they have received from defendants over the past four and a half years. Similarly, California's citizens have incurred far greater costs, both financial and otherwise, as a result of defendants' heretofore unyielding resistance to compliance with this Court's orders. Finally, we recognize that this Court must also accept part of the blame for not acting more forcefully with regard to defendants' obduracy in the face of its continuing constitutional violations. Nevertheless, resolving the conditions in California prisons for the long run, and not merely for the next few months, is of paramount importance to this Court as well as to the people of this State.
In response, California's Governor Jerry Brown [official profile] stated [press release] that "[i]t is encouraging that the Three-Judge Court has agreed to a two-year extension. The state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer."

California has been under scrutiny for its prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive] since 2006, when the state's governor proclaimed a prison overcrowding state of emergency [text]. Last September, Governor Brown signed into law a bill [SB 105, text] that prevents the early release of inmates and allows the state to comply with a federal court order. In July 2013, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] called on [JURIST report] California to end conditions for prisoners in solitary confinement and order an impartial investigation into the recent death of a prisoner. In January 2013, Governor Brown [official website] issued a proclamation [text, PDF], in order to effectively terminate the 2006 state of emergency and indicated that the circumstances giving rise to the prison overcrowding state of emergency no longer exist within California prisons. In April, however, a panel of federal judges refused to vacate or modify their 2010 order [text, PDF] for reduction of the California inmate population. This order mandated the state to reduce its prison population to within 137.5 percent of institutional design capacity. In May, Governor Brown and various state prison officials filed a notice of appeal [JURIST report] to the US Supreme Court [official website] from the April order. In May 2011 the US Supreme Court decided Brown v. Plata [opinion, PDF], which upheld [JURIST report] a federal court order that California reduce its state prison population.

 

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