SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown asked federal judges Thursday to give the state two more years to reduce prison crowding to the level set by the court, and said inmates could be released early if the state fails to meet its goals.
The proposal presented to the special three-judge panel calls for the court to appoint a compliance officer to choose which inmates would be freed.
The state faces an uncertain spring deadline to reduce the prison population by more than 5,000 inmates to comply with the court’s population cap.
Brown wants the deadline extended to Feb. 28, 2016. He proposed that the state meet interim population reduction deadlines in June 2014 and February 2015.
Two years is “the minimum length of time needed to allow new reform measures to responsibly draw down the prison population while avoiding the early release of inmates,” the administration said in its seven-page court filing.
The judges had ordered the administration and attorneys representing inmates to propose separate plans by Thursday after they failed to reach agreement on how best to reduce crowding.
Inmates’ attorneys said in their four-page filing that the state should be ordered to meet the population cap by May of this year. The filing recommended that the state comply by sending more inmates to private prisons in other states, something the state said would not be necessary under its proposal. The state currently houses about 8,900 inmates housed in out-of-state facilities.
The inmates’ lawyers also asked the court to appoint a compliance officer to order inmates released, if necessary.
Rebekah Evenson, an attorney with the Berkeley-based nonprofit Prison Law Office that is suing the state, said another two years is too long to wait when the state already has had four years to comply with previous court orders.
“People are hurt and people are dying because of the inadequate heath care. We just can’t wait another two years to get that resolved,” she said.
The two sides have until next week to comment on each other’s proposals, and the judges said they would issue a final order by mid-February.
The state’s 33 adult prisons and a new medical facility that opened last year in Stockton were designed to hold a combined 81,574 inmates. They currently house 117,497, or 144 percent of their designed capacity.
The judges have ordered the state to reduce the population to 137.5 percent of designed capacity, or 112,164 inmates. They ruled that reducing crowding is the best way to improve care for sick and mentally ill inmates, rulings upheld twice by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brown proposed that the state be required to reduce the population to 143 percent of design capacity by June, and to 141.5 percent of capacity by next February as interim goals. If the state was over the interim or final population caps, the compliance officer appointed by the judges would pick inmates to be released based on their projected risk to public safety and other factors.
The delay would give the state time to open an expansion of the Stockton medical facility this spring to house about 1,100 mentally ill inmates.
The state’s filing says it is taking several other steps to make sure it can meet the proposed deadlines.
The state plans to expand an existing medical parole program that in the last three years has allowed for the parole of 56 medically incapacitated inmates, consider parole for inmates 60 or older who have served at least 25 years in prison, and increase good-time credits for some nonviolent offenders.
Those three changes could result in the earlier release of nearly 1,600 inmates by April 2016, according to projections by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The state also offered Thursday to expand an alternative custody program for female inmates. It also proposed to make nonviolent second-strikers eligible for parole after they have served half their sentences, and to free inmates who have already been granted parole by the Board of Parole Hearings but have future parole dates.
Corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said the department had not yet calculated how many inmates might be released under the new proposals.
“We’re still tabulating those numbers, but we believe it will be enough to ensure that we meet the benchmarks,” she said.
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