By Paige St. John
6:58 PM EDT, July 3, 2013
The panel of three federal judges who last month ordered California to release 9,600 inmates or find another cure to overcrowding refused Wednesday to delay that edict while Gov. Jerry Brown appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Their June 20 order, still in effect, requires California to reduce prison crowding to 137.5% of what the state's 33 prisons were built to hold by the end of the year. In California's most recent report, those prisons were hovering at 150%.
Brown and his lawyers had asked the federal panel — U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton and Thelton Henderson and 9th Circuit Appeals Justice Stephen Reinhardt — to delay the order while the state takes its appeal before the Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Sacramento native, already has agreed to delay the deadline for initial briefs in that appeal to late August, putting the appeal on a track to not be decided until next spring.
The state contended no harm would come from waiting, and that to enact the judges' requirement that inmates receive increased "good time" reductions to their sentences would result in changes that "cannot be stopped or undone," at a risk to public safety.
Lawyers representing inmates in the two class-action lawsuits underlying the release order countered that to do nothing "will prolong ongoing irreparable harm — including illness and death" of the 132,000 prisoners they represent.
In rejecting Brown's request for more time, the judges noted that California has been under the population reduction order for four years as well as the 23-year history of the litigation, citing the "long history of defendants' noncompliance."
"Until now, the state has insisted that it is unable (read unwilling) to comply with the Population Reduction Order," the judges wrote.
Although California is weeks away from opening its 34th prison, a medical facility near Stockton, the state has not taken other steps to further reduce crowding beyond Brown's "realignment" project in 2011 requiring counties to house low-level felons and parole violators. Further, Brown intends to cancel out-of-state prison contracts that currently absorb some 8,900 inmates.
Meanwhile, pursuant to another federal court order, the California prison system has said it will move 2,600 inmates at risk of fatal cases of valley fever out of two prisons afflicted with the fungus.
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