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Gov. Brown: Overcrowding at San Quentin, State Prisons Are 'a Distant Memory'

With inmate population down at San Quentin and prisons across California, legal filing claims that continued enforcement of the population reduction order is now "unfair, unnecessary and illegal."

By Bay City News Service

Gov. Jerry Brown has asked a federal three-judge panel to lift an order requiring the state to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prisons to 110,000 by June.

In filings in federal courts in San Francisco and Sacramento on Monday night, Brown contends the order is no longer needed because the prison population has already been significantly reduced and health care greatly improved.

"The overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory," state lawyers argued in the papers. "California's vastly improved prison health care system now provides inmates with superior care that far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Constitution."

The population reduction was ordered in 2009 by the three-judge panel acting on a lawsuit in which inmates claimed that prison health care was so deficient that it amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

The reduction has been evident at Marin's San Quentin State Prison, where the reported population this week was 3,967, or 128 percent over capacity, the state prisons department told the Marin Independent Journal. That was down about 23 percent from early January 2009, when the population was 5,164, or 167 percent above capacity. In early January 2006, the prison had 5,433 inmates, or 148 percent above capacity.

The panel concluded that severe overcrowding was a primary cause of poor health care and ordered the state to decrease the population of its 33 adult prisons to 110,000 inmates, or 137 percent of the designed capacity.

At the time, the prisons housed 150,000 inmates in facilities designed for 80,000.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling in 2011, saying that the "grossly inadequate" health care was unconstitutional.

The prison population has now fallen to 119,000, as a result of several measures, including the so-called "realignment" process in which some low-level offenders are diverted to county jails.

Brown claims in the court papers that continued enforcement of the population reduction order is now "unfair, unnecessary and illegal."

Monday was also a deadline for the Brown administration to tell the court how it would complete the remainder of the population reduction by June.

In a separate filing, the administration said the number of inmates could be reduced further by changes in state laws to provide shorter sentences and/or by court orders for the early release of some prisoners, but argued that those options might endanger public safety.

The three-judge panel is made up of U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles.

It was convened under a federal law that provides that a court order to reduce prison population can be made only by a three-judge panel and not by a single trial judge acting on a civil rights lawsuit.

Donald Specter, a lawyer for the inmates, called Brown's filings "misguided and misplaced" and said the prisoners' attorneys will oppose lifting the 2009 order.

"He's not aware of the true facts, which show that the prison system is still unconstitutionally overcrowded," said Specter, who works out of the Prison Law Office in Berkeley.

In a statement filed with the court on Monday, the prisoners' attorneys argued that the prison system remains "vastly overcrowded," that medical and mental health care continues to be inadequate and that there are safe and effective ways to reduce the population.

Copyright © 2013 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.

Kevin Moore January 11, 2013 at 07:56 PM
Yet another, "Mission accomplished". Fill your car to 150% of capacity, then go for a long road trip. Blog on how it goes. Our problem is we are creating too many criminals.
Michael January 11, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Yep, and as seems the norm the politicians do nothing to address the REASONS for the overcrowding they just deal with the results of overcrowding. Politicians refuse to address our insane drug laws which are maybe the major contributing factor to our prison populations. Why? So much money is at stake that the current ruling authority, federal government, will not let go of their cash cow without a continued, prolonged and costly fight. Just look at Obama's ever changing, every cloudy, ever noncommittal, ever promising, ever lying stance on pot. With Billions of our dollars going to support the huge DEA bureaucracy they will not let go of their livelihoods easily no matter how wrong the focus is. THAT is the real problem.
Kevin Moore January 12, 2013 at 02:01 AM
Someone in Marin called Obama a "stealth Republican". I think they may be onto something. So many of policies were just continuations of Bush's policies. While not a true conservative, Obama has been very kind to big business and those who would be writing checks to his re-election campaign. Give aways to the rich and give aways to the poor. The middle class is getting squeezed out of existence.

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