SACRAMENTO -- Federal judges Monday confirmed that Gov. Jerry Brown and lawyers for inmates failed to agree on a plan to handle crowding in the state’s prisons and announced they will order a solution instead.
The judges Monday gave Brown and lawyers for inmates until Jan. 23 to file proposed terms "to achieve durable compliance" with crowding limits that were to go into effect April 18. They said they will push that ultimate deadline back by however long it takes the jurists to decide their own solution.
That means, for now, California will still be blocked from expanding its contracts with private prison operators for cells out of state. And it means a short delay before Brown and state lawmakers learn if California will need to spend a planned $315 million to expand private prison leases, or just $228 million to keep those lease contracts at their current level. If the crowding deadline is pushed back to 2016, as Brown seeks, the governor pledges to give $81 million of the savings to counties for prisoner rehabilitation programs.
The federal judges are Thelton Henderson in San Francisco, Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento and Appellate Judge Stephen Reinhardt in Los Angeles. They had granted Brown and prisoners' lawyers until last Friday to negotiate a long-range solution to the state's prison crowding problems.
"It now appears that no such agreement will be reached," judges said in Monday's order. They said they intend to make their own ruling in the next month.
In the absence of a deal, Brown revealed last week that he is immediately expanding state parole programs for the frail and elderly, and increasing early release eligibility for some repeat offenders. Those steps would make some 2,200 prisoners eligible for release, but state officials previously told the court they expect only about 440 inmates would actually be freed within the first six months of those programs.
New state projections show California by 2019 will have 26,000 more prisoners than its 34 prisons could hold under the court-ordered population limits. Brown has proposed to abide by that cap, for now, by sending prisoners to private lockups and other alternative placements. Many of those alternative placements already are being used by the state.
“We are hopeful the court will recognize that the state has made significant reforms to our criminal justice system and will allow us an extension so we can build upon these landmark reforms,” said corrections spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman.