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Brown asks federal judges for more time to reduce prison crowding

Inmates in bunks within a dorm at California's prison in Chino in 2013. The state on Thursday said it would agree to inmate releases if it failed to meet future deadlines to reduce crowding.
(Image filed in U.S. District Court briefings.)

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown is again asking federal judges for more time to reduce crowding in California’s prisons, this time proposing to release prisoners early if the state misses future deadlines.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court late Thursday, Brown asked that an April 2014 deadline to lower crowding to safe levels be pushed back two years. Lawyers for the governor say that is “the minimum length of time needed to allow new reform measures to responsibly draw down the prison population while avoiding the early release of inmates.”

Nevertheless, Brown proposes that a court-appointed official be given the power to order the release of prisoners if that, or interim, deadlines are missed. The governor’s lawyers propose that it would not be the state, but that new appointee who would decide whom to release from prison to bring prison headcounts down to required levels.

In the meantime, the governor proposes allowing some repeat offenders who have served half their sentences to apply for parole.

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The potential early release would apply to felons prosecuted under the state’s “three strikes” law and sent to prison on doubled terms for their second offenses. The governor proposes limiting that early parole to those whose second crime was not violent.

The governor also repeated a program he announced earlier this month to expand parole requirements for prisoners who are medically incapacitated or elderly. Brown has agreed to set aside $81 million for rehabilitation programs if the court agrees to the delay.

California currently has more than 12,000 prisoners in private prisons and county-run facilities. The governor’s court filing states that a two-year delay will avoid “sending thousands more inmates to private prisons in other states.”

However, in a proposed order also sent to federal judges Thursday, the governor’s lawyers admit that to meet new crowding targets the state intends to spend money on contracts for more cells in county jails, community-owned corrections centers and private prisons.

In their own filing to federal judges Thursday, lawyers representing inmates in the class-action litigation also call for appointment of a federal compliance officer to keep watch over the state’s prison population. As of Wednesday, California reported that its prisons were at 144% of capacity, with 117,500 inmates.

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

twitter: @paigestjohn


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