SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday made one final bid to delay a federal court order requiring the state to release nearly 10,000 inmates by year’s end to improve conditions in California prisons, saying it would jeopardize public safety.
Brown’s administration filed a request with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy seeking to delay the order forcing the state to immediately take steps to further reduce its prison population.
If Kennedy agrees, it will push back the releases for a year while the Supreme Court considers the state’s appeal.
If he refuses to intervene, the state has said it will begin freeing inmates to comply with the lower court order, which is intended to improve care for sick and mentally ill inmates.
That will cause irreparable harm to public safety because the inmates cannot be returned to prison if the nation’s high court eventually rules in the state’s favor, the administration said in its 142-page court filing.
It will “thrust serious and violent individuals on the counties” that already are struggling to absorb thousands of lower-level offenders, the state said.
Kennedy oversees appeals from western states. He is a Republican appointee who sided with the court’s four Democratic-appointed justices in 2011 to cast the deciding vote requiring the state to reduce its prison population to about 110,000 inmates.
Attorneys representing inmates and the three judges who entered the original order say further delay will lead to more deaths and injuries for inmates in crowded prisons.
Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard said conditions have changed dramatically since the lower court’s original order in 2009.
What once was the nation’s largest state prison population has shed more than 46,000 inmates since 2006, most of them under a 2-year-old state law that is sentencing lower-level criminals to county jails instead of state prisons.
“It will force us into (releasing) serious and violent offenders because we just don’t have all of these less serious, nonviolent offenders in the system anymore,” Beard said in an interview Wednesday.
The inmate reduction fell short of the level set by the lower court and upheld by Supreme Court.
The lower court last month ordered state officials to expand good-time credits leading to early release as well as other steps Brown said he could reluctantly take. Those include sending more inmates to firefighting camps, paroling elderly felons, leasing cells at county jails and delay bringing back thousands of inmates now housed in private prisons in other states.
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