California Gov. Jerry Brown files prison appeal

Within 24 hours of giving federal judges a plan to further reduce prison crowding, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday appealed for relief from court orders over prison conditions.

The governor asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overrule U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton's orders leading up to and including denying the state's bid to end oversight of mental healthcare delivered to about 33,000 inmates.

The appeal was expected. Brown has said he intends to challenge federal oversight of the state's prisons all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the same body that two years ago deemed time in California prisons akin to cruel and unusual punishment.

State corrections officials insist much has changed and inmates now receive prompt care that meets at least the minimum required by the U.S. Constitution. Lawyers for prisoners disagree. They cited a climbing inmate suicide rate, continued existence of waiting lists for inpatient care, and staffing shortages in a prison psychiatric hospital to persuade Karlton to order oversight to continue.

Legislative leaders said Friday they supported Brown's appeal, and not the prisoner-reduction plan the courts forced the governor to file.

"The Legislature will give thoughtful consideration to the plan the governor was compelled to submit, but that does not mean we are compelled to enact it," Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement.

Likewise, Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said he did not support spending taxpayer funds to lease extra prison beds when there are other ways of tackling the larger problem.

"I’m obviously respectful of the federal courts but they don’t have to make the same choices elected representatives have to make," Steinberg said. "We don’t know if we have any money, but if we do, [we have to decide] whether to spend precious public resources contracting for more jail and prison beds or to invest that money in substance abuse and training for people who are leaving the prisons."


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