Calif. challenges court order to reduce prison population to improve conditions, citing public safety risk
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown is challenging a federal court order that California further reduce its inmate population to improve prison conditions, reigniting a legal battle that already once reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
Complying with the court's June deadline for lowering the prison population would endanger public safety, Brown contends in court filings seeking to overturn the deadline and the court's population cap.
"The overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this Court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory," the administration argued in its court filings overnight Monday. "California's vastly improved prison health care system now provides inmates with superior care that far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Constitution."
The cap was imposed in 2009 after federal judges blamed crowding for causing conditions so dismal that they violated inmates' constitutional rights and resulted in the death of an average of one inmate each week due to neglect or poor care. The judges gave the state until June to reduce the population of California's 33 adult prisons by about 33,000 inmates, to a total of 110,000 inmates.
The decision was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011, and so far the federal judges have said they will not consider raising the cap.
That didn't deter the state from making the attempt.
"Any further federally ordered reduction of the California prison population is unnecessary and a threat to public safety," Jeffrey Beard, the new secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.
Beard noted that the state has reduced its prison population by about 43,000 inmates since 2006 while improving its treatment of mentally and physically ill inmates. State officials say California's less serious offenders already are going to county jails under a 14-month old law that sends only serious, violent and sexual offenders to state prisons. That makes it more difficult to identify remaining criminals who could be safely released.
"Instead of ordering the early release of potentially thousands of serious and violent felons, it is hoped that the federal court will recognize that ...