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California inmate reduction plan falls short of federal mandate

[JURIST] The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] issued a plan [text, PDF; press release] Friday to reduce prison overcrowding as ordered [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] by a special panel of federal judges in August, but the plan falls short of the order's requirements. According to the CDCR, the plan could reduce the overcrowding rate from 190 percent to 155 percent in the next three years. This falls short of the federal court order requiring a reduction to 137.5 percent, or a release of nearly 43,000 inmates from the state's 33 prison facilities, in the next two years. The plan provides various ways of reducing the overcrowding rate including transferring more prisoners to out-of-state prisons, GPS monitoring of inmates who violate parole, commuting sentences of inmates who are eligible for deportation, and building new facilities or converting unused space. It is not clear what action the court will take against the CDCR for failing to meet its mandate, but options include [WSJ report] holding Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website] in contempt of court or instituting its own plan. With its filing of the plan, the CDCR also said that is was not abandoning its appeal of the special panel's ruling to the US Supreme Court [official website].

Last week, the Supreme Court denied [JURIST report] California's request to stay the court order temporarily. The special panel's ruling was the result of a lawsuit [court materials] brought by two inmates against the state's prison system, alleging that the overcrowding had resulted in a failure to provide [Los Angeles Times report] adequate physical and mental health care, depriving them of their constitutional rights. The prison system in the state was originally built [San Francisco Chronicle report] to handle around 80,000 prisoners, and it is estimated that there are currently 168,000 inmates being held in those facilities.

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