A special federal court panel on Tuesday gave Gov. Jerry Brown and state prison officials an extra six months to comply with orders to reduce prison overcrowding in California but did not act on the administration's recent request to end judicial oversight of the prison system.
In a brief order, a three-judge panel agreed to give the Brown administration until the end of this year to reach a cap of about 110,000 inmates in the state's 33 prisons, a target originally set by the court for this June. The court in 2009 had ordered California prison officials to meet that goal after concluding the system was so overcrowded that inmates could not receive adequate medical and mental health care.
But the judges asked state prison officials and lawyers for the inmates for further clarification and arguments on the governor's request in early January that the court relinquish control over the prison system.
At that time, Brown declared the prison emergency over in California, saying there is no longer need for court oversight because the state has shed more than 30,000 inmates and relieved the bulk of its overcrowding problem. The governor and prison officials also maintain that medical-care improvements and construction of new facilities now ensure inmates receive adequate care.
Lawyers for the inmates have indicated they plan to oppose the state's request to end the court case, which previously reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The court several years ago upheld the panel's orders requiring the state to shed nearly 40,000 inmates.
The governor has vowed to take the case back to the Supreme Court if the judges do not release the prison system from the court orders.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz