By Denny Walsh
and Sam Stanton,
Claiming that the state has made substantial progress in solving its prison overcrowding problem, California officials asked a federal court this week to dismiss its requirements for huge reductions in inmate populations.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, filing court documents just two hours before the court-ordered deadline to explain how the state will reduce inmate populations, said progress made so far is sufficient to warrant the federal court withdrawing its order.
It also said the court-ordered reductions could needlessly force the state to release dangerous or violent inmates.
“The overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this Court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory,” the court papers state. “California’s vastly improved prison health care system now provides inmates with superior care that far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Constitution.
“In the years since the court issued the current population cap order, the state has dramatically reduced the prison population, significantly increased capacity through construction, and implemented a myriad of improvements that transformed the medical and mental health care systems.”
A three-judge federal panel had ordered the state to cut population to 137.5 percent of capacity, down from nearly double the prison capacity, and said such reductions were necessary to maintain proper physical and mental health care in the 33 adult prisons.
But Brown’s administration said in papers filed late Monday that it has achieved sufficient reductions already through a series of efforts.
“Therefore, this Court must vacate the 137.5 percent population cap order issued when it was believed that quality health care could not be provided at a higher population density,” the state contended.
“The population in the state’s 33 prisons has been reduced by over 24,000 inmates since October 2011 when public safety realignment went into effect, by more than 36,000 inmates compared to the 2008 population in the record at the evidentiary hearing, and by nearly 42,000 inmates since 2006 when plaintiffs moved to convene the three-judge court.
“In addition to this unprecedented population reduction, the state has constructed additional capacity to meet the health care needs of its inmate population, both by adding beds, and by building or renovating numerous health care facilities.”
Brown has been at the forefront of inmate reduction efforts since taking office. The state prison system has been under siege for decades from prisoner lawsuits and federal court orders that have found the state was holding inmates in unsafe conditions.