California has until Nov. 10 to reduce prison crowding from 149 to 137 percent capacity
California’s Supreme Court has refused to consider Gov. Jerry Brown’s appeal of an order to reduce prison populations in the state. Brown will have until Jan. 27 to meet a court-ordered population cap mandating the release of over 9,000 additional prisoners.
The state’s push for prison reform began in 2011, when a federal court demanded that California improve prison health conditions. In April 2013, the Supreme Court of California gave Brown 20 days to come up with a plan to reduce the number of inmates or be held in contempt of the court. Brown’s initial plan included releasing certain inmates and sending others to county prisons in order to lessen the pressure on state prisons, which currently hold inmates at up to 149 percent of capacity.
Releasing the additional prisoners will bring state prison overcrowding to 137 percent of capacity. Brown’s plans may not add up to the mandated 9,600 prisoners that need to be released, and the court can order the release of more prisoners on top of its first mandate.
Brown petitioned the initial order to release inmates by December of this year, asking for an additional three years to meet the court’s requirements. The mandate was instead extended to mid-January 2014.
The governor had previously petitioned to eliminate federal oversight of California’s prisons, and stated in a Jan. 2013 press conference that the state should be allowed to run its own system.
“The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said. “We’ve reduced over 43,000 [inmates]. People act like nothing happened. Billions and billions have been spent. We’ve shaped up; we’re standing at attention; we’re ready to go forward. I’ve taken their own expert, and I’ve made him head of corrections. So what more do they want?”
The administration has also been turning to for-profit prisons to house additional inmates, including one in California City, which will cost the state $28.5 million per year to operate. Federal judges have blocked Brown from sending prisoners to private prisons outside of the state.
Michael Bien is the lead counsel for mental health in Coleman v. Brown, one of two cases aimed to compel Brown to comply with the court’s orders.
“This is an extremely significant ruling, in that Governor Brown and California have been fighting the order of the three-judge court to reduce the prison population,” Bien said. “The prison system and California are not complying with the people.”
The University of California Student Administration has offered its own solution regarding California’s prison problems. The organization is sponsoring Invest in Graduation Not Incarceration, or IGNITE, and is aimed at easing laws that result in long-term prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, as well as suspensions for students accused of willful defiance. The UCSA website calls willful defiance an overly broad and arbitrary rationale that results in suspensions and expulsions.
The court that ordered the prison population cap said in April that Brown and his administration blatantly defied the mandate.
“California still houses far more prisoners than its system is designed to house,” the judges said. “At no point over the past several months have defendants indicated any willingness to comply, or made any attempt to comply, with the orders of this court.”
If Brown’s administration fails to comply, the court has threatened to release thousands of prisoners early next year.