Prisons timeline: A scramble to comply after years of controversy

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown stood with top lawmakers Monday to say they would seek more time to comply with a court order requiring the state to cut its prison population.

An extension, Brown said, would allow the state to expand rehabilitation programs and reduce the number of former inmates returning to prison for new crimes.

Without the extra time, the state would have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to place inmates in private prisons and other facilities, he said.

Although the state's efforts to comply with the court order have come to resemble a race against the clock, the battle over California's prison system has gone on for years. Here's a look back at some of the key events:

September 1995:  Spurred by a class-action lawsuit, California’s mental health programs are placed under control of a receiver. A federal judge criticized state officials for their “recalcitrant refusal” to provide proper psychiatric care for inmates.

January 2002: Another class-action suit, alleging inadequate medical care in prisons because of overcrowding, is settled, with the state agreeing to overhaul its healthcare programs by 2008.

July 2005: A federal judge declares he will take control of the state prison healthcare system. Control is transferred to a federal receiver in February 2006.

August 2009: A three-judge panel orders the state to cap its prison population at 137.5% of capacity, calls for release of nearly 43,000 inmates in two years to conform to constitutional standards. The order is ultimately put on hold pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

May 2011: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the 2009 ruling, orders the state to shed more than 33,000 inmates from prison rolls in two years. Officials soon begin sending low-level offenders to county jails instead of state lockups to reduce the prison population, a process called "realignment."

January 2013: Realignment does not reduce the prison population enough to meet the court order, but Brown declares “the prison crisis is over in California" and calls for a return of state control. The panel of federal judges does not back down from its order but agrees to extend the deadline for meeting the population cap from June 30 to Dec. 31.

June 2013: Federal judges order Brown to remove 9,600 inmates by the end of the year and threaten to hold him in contempt of court if he does not comply.

August 2013: Brown appeals the order to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the state begins preparing to comply. The governor announces a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to house inmates in private prisons and other facilities. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is not on board and pushes his own proposal.

September 2013: A deal is reached between Brown and top lawmakers to seek another extension for complying with the court order. If judges grant the extra time, the state would fund rehabilitation programs intended to reduce the prison population.


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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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