Giving California prison officials a temporary reprieve to deal with the state's overcrowding crisis, a federal court on Tuesday ordered the Brown administration and inmates' lawyers to discuss whether the latest legislative plan will solve the long-running prison problem.

In the order, a special three-judge panel gave the state until the end of January to report back to the court, for now dissolving a December deadline to rid California's prisons of nearly 10,000 more inmates. The judges indicated that the state and inmates' lawyers could ask for further extensions, suggesting the court may be willing to give California more time to end a decades-long legal battle.

At the same time, the judges ordered California to stop transferring inmates to private or out-of-state prisons while the latest proposal is considered.

State officials would only say Tuesday they are reviewing the court's order.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature agreed recently to address the court's overcrowding orders by trying to use mental health and drug treatment programs to limit the number of inmates being sent to the state's prisons for new crimes, asking the judges to give the state three more years to meet the latest goals. State officials have said they would otherwise spend more than $300 million to ship inmates to private prisons and prisons in other states if the judges would not agree to that solution.

In Tuesday's order, the judges did not indicate whether they would accept the proposal, but instructed state officials and inmates' advocates to focus on several categories, including elderly and juvenile inmates, immigration violators, the seriously ill and those serving three-strikes sentences.

The order calls for the two sides to meet in the coming months with San Francisco state appeals court Justice Peter Siggins, formerly a top lawyer in the Brown administration. Siggins is expected to report to the judges on the progress of the negotiations in late October.

In the meantime, the governor has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court the order requiring the state to remove more inmates from California prisons, arguing that California has solved its overcrowding problem by releasing about 30,000 inmates over the past few years.

The federal judges previously found that the state's prisons are so overcrowded that they fail to give inmates adequate medical and mental health care. The court determined there are still enough problems to require the release of more inmates.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz