State has new deadline to relieve prison overcrowding

August 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
California is not complying quickly enough with a court order to relieve prison overcrowding. So a panel of judges is giving the state a new deadline, or else.

Even after being ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce its prison population, the California Corrections Department admits it probably won't be able to meet the mandate of 137.5 percent of capacity by the June 2013 deadline, which is roughly 6,000 to 8,000 inmates too many.

Instead, the agency will ask to raise the cap to 145 percent, defending the move by saying it's not the number that counts.

"We are making great progress towards improving the quality of health care in the prison system and that's really what the federal courts were interested in," California Corrections Department spokesperson Jeffrey Callison said.

California's prison system is famously overcrowded; so much so, inmates were dying because they couldn't see a doctor. Reducing the prison population was seen as a way to bring healthcare up to constitutional standards. The fact that the state can't bring down the numbers down, angers the attorney representing prisoners.

"And even after they lose, and even after the Supreme Court affirms a ruling saying reduce the population to about 110,000 prisoners, the state still keeps fighting it," Don Spector with the Prison Law Office said.

Governor Jerry Brown's realignment plan that began sending low-level criminals to county jail instead of prison last fall isn't relieving overcrowding enough. Spector says one answer stands out -- give out more good time credit -- which critics call "early release."

"Scientific materials show that cutting a few months off a prisoners' sentence doesn't affect public safety one bit," Spector said.

Crime Victims Action Alliance thinks the feds have had it with California and will order early release. The group points out that residents are already paying the price of sending low level criminals to the county and it'll get worse under an early release order.

"Crime is on the rise, violent crime and property crime," said Christine Ward with the Crime Victims Action Alliance. "And now we're going to have more people coming out into our communities that really shouldn't be here. Early releases, it's going to be huge."

Corrections has until Friday to tell the court how, among other things, it will identify inmates unlikely to re-offend for potential early release.


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