[JURIST] US District Judge Lawrence Karlton [official profile] said Monday that the state of California has six months to remedy overcrowding in the state's prison system, which is 70 percent overcapacity with 173,000 total inmates, before he will decide whether to establish a three-member judicial panel to make recommendations to fix the problem. Karlton said he was giving the state six months because he has seen improvements in the prison system since California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] took office in 2003, including the decision to send 80 inmates to Tennessee [JURIST report] and plans to send over 2,200 more to Oklahoma, Indiana and Arizona. Schwarzenegger is also planning to request billions in funding to build more prison facilities in January, according to a spokesman for the state corrections system. The state legislature rejected a similar proposal in October, prompting the governor to declare a state of emergency [press release; JURIST report].
Karlton warned that if acceptable remedies were not reached in six months, a judicial panel could order California [JURIST news archive] to release prisoners before their sentences are completed. Federal law allows such releases only after a panel determines that all other alternatives have been exhausted. Prison rights groups such as the Prison Law Office [advocacy website] in San Francisco that have asked for the panel to be created say that a six-month delay will only result in more deaths and injuries to prisoners and guards. AP has more.