Court Gives California Two Years to Lower Prison Population

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On Feb. 10, a three-judge panel approved the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s proposal for a two-year extension to Feb. 28, 2016 to reduce the state’s prison population to 137.5 percent capacity. In return, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration promises not to file any more appeals or ask for any more time. This finally ends the back-and-forth deadline extension process between the two sides.

On April 11, 2013, the three-judge panel had issued Gov. Brown a strict deadline to reduce the number of inmates in the state’s 33 correctional facilities to 137.5 percent capacity by December 2013. They threatened that if the population cap was not met, approximately 9,500 inmates could be released. That deadline was extended month after month until both Gov. Brown and attorneys representing a group of prison inmates were required to write and submit terms on Jan. 23, 2014 that “the parties believe are best suited to achieve durable compliance with this court’s orders to maintain a prison population of no more than 137.5 percent capacity,” according to a statement from the panel.

The judges had opened that joint statement by calling attention to the fact that the meet-and-confer process, and, as a result, the compliance deadline, had been extended multiple times without resolution. They also noted that the prison population reduction debate is soon to enter its fifth year, as the court first ordered the reduction in August 2009 in an effort to improve health care services for the sick and those living with mental illness. Then, the state was given two years to meet the compliance standards, but that deadline has been pushed back multiple times. The panel established an April 18, 2014 deadline for compliance.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for CDCR, said that the reason for the latest two-year extension “so that the population reduction does not jeopardize public safety and does not strain local law enforcement agencies. It also helps ensure that the population reduction can be done in a fiscally prudent fashion.”

In the state’s proposal filed with the court, the state requested a two-year extension to Feb. 28, 2016 of the population cap deadline. In addition to new in-state capacity, the proposal includes the establishment of elderly parole, the expansion of medical parole, an increase in credits prospectively for non-violent second strikers (from 20 percent to 33 percent), a new parole process through which non-violent second strikers will be evaluated for parole suitability by the parole board once they have served 50 percent of their sentence, and expansion of reentry and alternative custody programs. The state’s plan sets benchmarks of 143 percent of design capacity by June 30, 2014; 141 percent by Feb. 28, 2015; and 137.5 percent by Feb. 28, 2016. If those benchmarks are missed, a court-appointed Compliance Officer will order inmate releases.