Court Gives California 2 Extra Years to Cut Prison Population

February 11, 2014

A federal court gave California two more years Monday to reduce the population of its overcrowded prisons, yielding to pressure from state officials who said they could meet an impending deadline only by shipping thousands of inmates to other states.

The three-judge court had initially set a June 2013 deadline for the state to lower the inmate population to 37.5 percent above its designed capacity in order to reduce overcrowding that had undermined prison health care.

The court extended the deadline several times. The latest deadline was Feb. 24, but on Monday, the court said it was reluctantly granting Gov. Jerry Brown's request for another two years. The main reason, the court said, was a warning from state officials that they would respond to an order for immediate compliance by transferring more inmates to prisons in other states, joining 8,900 California prisoners already locked up out of state.

That would result in "thousands of prisoners being incarcerated hundreds or thousands of miles from the support of their families" and would consume "hundreds of millions of dollars that could be spent on long-lasting prison reform," the court said.

Monday's order gives the state until Feb. 28, 2016, to reduce the prison population, which now totals 117,500. The court had previously required a reduction to 110,000, but state officials said they have increased the system's capacity by opening a new prison hospital in Stockton, and now can comply by lowering the population to 112,100.

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