[Ppnews] Federal Judges Again Order Gov Brown to Release 10, 000 Prisoners
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 20 19:17:04 EDT 2013
Judges: Brown must fully comply with prison order
June 20, 2013
Complete 51-page order
By DON THOMPSON --- Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. --- A panel of federal judges on Thursday rejected
Gov. Jerry Brown's attempt to circumvent its long-standing order for
reducing California's prison population, the latest step in an ongoing
legal drama over how to improve inmates' medical and mental health care
Brown quickly announced that he will ask the courts to stay what he
called an "unprecedented order to release almost 10,000 inmates by the
end of this year." The governor already filed notice that he intends to
appeal the latest order to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judges stopped just short of citing the Democratic governor for
contempt of court, but again threatened to do so if he does not
immediately comply with their latest order.
The plan submitted by the Brown administration in May to further reduce
the inmate population failed to meet the judges' mandate because it fell
short of the court-ordered population cap by 2,300 inmates, the judges
said in their 51-page order. That previous population reduction order
has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The judges reiterated in their sharply worded ruling that the governor
must comply with the original order to reduce the population to 110,000
inmates by the end of the year. They ordered Brown to take all the steps
he outlined in May, as well as one more step - the expansion of
good-time credits leading to early release. Brown had offered that as an
option, but it was not one he was willing to embrace.
The governor's plan for getting closer to the required level called for
sending more inmates to firefighting camps, leasing cells at county
jails, slowing the return of thousands of inmates now housed in private
prisons in other states, increasing early release credits for nonviolent
inmates and paroling elderly felons.
The judges ordered the administration to implement all the measures
regardless of whether they conflict with state or local laws.
At issue is how far the state must go in reducing its inmate population
to meet a previous court order to improve medical and mental health
treatment. The courts have said that prison overcrowding is the main
cause of care that fails to meet the constitutional guarantee against
cruel and unusual punishment.
The order leaves Brown with no more excuses, said Don Specter, director
of the nonprofit Prison Law Office and one of the lead attorneys
representing inmates' welfare.
"The court's order is absolutely essential to maintaining prison
conditions that protect prisoners from serious illness and death due to
inadequate health care," Specter said. The court had no choice because
Brown and Democrats who control the state Legislature were refusing to
comply with its previous orders, he said.
However, the judges offered the state some flexibility in how it complies.
The administration can revise the expanded good-time credit program, so
long as the changes still result in the required population reduction.
It can also pick and choose among inmates, substituting those who are
deemed less likely to commit new crimes for riskier convicts who would
otherwise be released early. Or, it can pick any other measure that was
previously on the administration's list of options.
But if the population goal is not met through other means by Dec. 31,
"defendants shall release the necessary number of prisoners to reach
that goal" by using a list of lower-risk inmates that the state has
previously said it could develop.
Though Brown argues otherwise, the court has found that "there is no
public safety issue" with the earlier releases, said Michael Bien, the
lead attorney representing mentally ill inmates.
The state has reduced its prison population by more than 46,000 inmates
since 2006, with more than half the decrease due to a 2-year-old state
law that is sentencing lower-level criminals to county jails instead of
state prisons. But the population remains about 9,400 inmates over the
level required by the courts.
The state has said it can whittle the population further by the end of
the year but would remain 2,300 inmates over the court-ordered number.
The administration said it is doing everything it can under California
law, but that Brown's reluctantly adopted plan had little support from
state lawmakers. Specter said Thursday's ruling removes that obstacle.
The judges warned Brown in April that he could no longer ignore its
orders. They opted in their latest order not to cite Brown for contempt,
though they said they would be well justified if they were to "institute
contempt proceedings immediately."
They decided to delay a contempt citation until they see if the state
complies with their new order. However, they warned that failing to
comply now with the latest order "shall constitute an act of contempt."
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