Federal judges prod state to consider other prison options

SACRAMENTO -- The court order issued Tuesday is another attempt by federal judges to urge the state to consider other solutions to prison overcrowding besides leasing beds in private facilities.

The judges’ preferences are clear in the order, which outlines a series of topics for negotiations between state officials and lawyers who have sued the state over prison conditions.

Nowhere on the list is housing more inmates in private facilities, which is Gov. Jerry Brown’s fallback plan if he’s forced to reduce California’s prison population in the coming months.


Instead, the judges want state officials to consider how they handle prisoners serving time for a third strike, as well as elderly and ill inmates.

The state is already releasing some third-strikers under the terms of a ballot initiative approved by voters last year, but the process has suffered from a backlog in the court system, according to a Stanford study.

Although there’s a process to parole for inmates requiring around-the-clock medical care, officials have not expanded the criteria for release to include hundreds more severely ill people behind bars.

There’s also a reference in the court order to the “implementation of the Low Risk List,” meaning a tally of inmates determined to pose the least risk if they are released before their sentences are over.

Brown and top lawmakers have said they don’t want to release any inmates early. But lawyers for inmates say expanding credits awarded for good behavior could help reduce prison crowding while not harming public safety.

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Twitter: @chrismegerian