Judge seeks California’s out-of-state prison plan

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Gov. Jerry Brown must explain to a federal court by the end of Wednesday how he plans to fit 9,000 inmates currently housed in out-of-state facilities back into California lockups.


U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton directed California to explain in writing its exact plan to stop sending inmates to private prisons as far as Mississippi. The administration announced its intention to return the inmates months ago, at the same time it also seeks an end to court-ordered prison population caps.

Karlton’s order requires California to stipulate the total number of inmates the state plans to return to California prisons from out-of-state facilities, the planned timetable for their return, and where the state plans to house those inmates. As of Jan. 30, according to state prison population reports, California had 8,852 inmates in four prisons run by Tennessee-based Corrections Corp. of America.

[Updated, 4:50 p.m. Feb. 6: Brown’s lawyers filed papers late Wednesday afternoon arguing that the end of private prison contracts has no bearing on the delivery of mental health care to inmates, the core issue before Karlton.

[Nevertheless, California said its 4,527 inmates will finish their prison terms out of state. An average of 110 inmates are paroling out of those prisons each month.The remaining 4,325 will be returned in stages through June 30, 2016.

[‘The gradual return of these inmates will allow the state to avoid bunking inmates in prison gymnasiums or other makeshift housing units again,’ state lawyers told the court.]

A three-judge panel that includes Karlton recently gave California an extra six months, until December 2013, to reduce its prison crowding to 137.5% of design capacity. The state has said it expects to be over that mark even without the return of out-of-state prisoners. Brown contends further reductions are not necessary and in January he issued an executive order claiming the 2006 ‘emergency proclamation’ that allowed prisoners to be moved against their will is terminated, as of this coming July.

Karlton’s order for more information did not come out of the three-judge panel, but was delivered in Coleman vs. Brown, the class-action lawsuit over mental health care for inmates. Along with a general bid to lift court-ordered prison caps, Brown’s lawyers filed a motion seeking to terminate that case. Karlton has set a March hearing.

In the interim, he ordered Matthew Lopes, the special master overseeing inmate mental health care, to produce as quickly as possible a report detailing inmate suicides for the first half of 2012. Lopes recently filed his annual report on the status of prison mental health care, raising concerns over what he said is a climbing suicide rate in California prisons.


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--Paige St. John in Sacramento