State gets two-year grace period to cut inmate population

California won a two-year extension to meet a federal court order to cut its prison population, but a three-judge panel made clear Monday that it has doubts about the state’s handling of prison overcrowding.

A three-judge federal panel grudgingly accepted Gov. Jerry Brown’s new plan to reduce the population, but reprimanded the state for its delay in finding what they described as a “durable” solution to the prison crisis. The state has put inmates in out-of-state prisons and private custody.

“This solution is neither durable nor desirable,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “It would result in thousands of prisoners being incarcerated hundreds or thousands of miles from the support of their families, and in hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent on long-lasting prison reform being spent instead on temporarily housing prisoners in out-of-state facilities.”

The governor in a prepared statement released by his office said the two-year extension means that “the state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer.”

Until the two-year delay was approved, California’s Corrections Department had been given until April to comply with a 2011 federal court order to ease the population to about 112,000 inmates. Despite its efforts, the state remains about 5,000 inmates above federal court limitations.

Part of the state’s inmate reduction program has been to transfer state prisoners to the counties’ custody, under a state-local program known as realignment, and California also makes use of out-of-state prisons.

If the state’s extension request had been denied, thousands of prisoners would have been sent to private prisons, according to the administration.

In three stages, the prison population must meet specific benchmarks, the first of which is 143 percent of designed bed capacity by the end of this June. Today the population remains above 144 percent capacity.

A court appointed compliance officer will keep the state on track to meet those deadlines and will be able to order for the release of inmates needed to comply with a missed benchmark. State officials have 60 days to file with the compliance officer a confidential list of prisoners who are least likely to re-offend. The officer cannot view the list until ordered to do so by the Court. 


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