California submits plan to reduce prison population to meet court order

[JURIST] California Governor Jerry Brown [official website] submitted a plan [press release; materials] Tuesday to reduce the state's prison population by over 30,000 inmates to satisfy a court order [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] to reduce prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive]. The plan is a response to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Plata [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] to uphold a federal three-judge panel order that California reduce its state prison population to within 137.5 percent of institutional design capacity. The submitted plan outlines measures that the state was taking to reduce prison populations including the passage of AB 109 [text], which once funded by the legislature, will transfer adult prisoners to local jails. Brown did not ask for an extension, though he had indicated [JURIST report] that he would ask a federal judge for more time. Brown did, however, express some reservations about the state's ability to meet the deadlines imposed, noting that the legislature has yet to pass the AB 109 funding bill and that "until AB 109 is funded and implemented and all necessary construction projects are approved, it is too soon to know precisely how fast and at what rate crowding will be reduced." California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) [official website] Secretary Matthew Cate also stressed the importance [press release] of funding AB 109:

Our current reduction plan does not include the early release of inmates. But it is absolutely critical that the Legislature understand the seriousness of the Supreme Court's decision and support a variety of measures that will allow us to lower our inmate population in the safest possible way. AB 109 is the cornerstone of the solution, and the Legislature must act to protect public safety by funding Realignment.
The plan also said SB 18 [text] "will substantially reduce prison crowding." The bill, which is already being implemented, is meant to reduce crowding by restructuring the parole system, providing inmates with more opportunities to earn early release credits, creating an alternative rehabilitative program for parole violators rather than being sent back to prison, and changing the law to increase the threshold for felonies in crimes that could be a misdemeanor depending on the amount stolen. The number of inmates currently in California prisons is approximately 143,500, about a 19,000 inmate reduction from 2006 when the plaintiffs filed their motions to convene the three-judge panel.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, upheld the three-judge panel order, concluding that the extreme overcrowding of the California prison system violated the Eighth Amendment [text] because it prevented the system from providing adequate medical and mental health care to the inmates. The Court said the inability to provide this "basic sustenance" was a constitutional violation that the courts must remedy. The California prison system was operating at nearly 200 percent capacity. The three-judge panel ordered California to reduce the population by 46,000 inmates to be under 137.5 percent institutional capacity within two years.

 

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