State officials have no immediate response to prison-release order

An inmate in a recreation room at Sacramento County's Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO -- State corrections officials had no immediate comment Thursday after a panel of federal judges ordered Gov. Jerry Brown to begin releasing inmates from the state’s crowded prisons.

“We just received the judges’ 51-page order and are reviewing it now,” said Deborah Hoffman, spokeswoman for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

At his state Senate confirmation hearing the day before, prisons chief Jeffrey Beard made only a passing reference to the court’s looming demand for action. “We have a plan,” he said.


DOCUMENT: Gov. Brown ordered to release inmates

Advocates for inmates were quick to respond.

“The current order gives the state all the tools it needs to reduce the prison population to constitutional levels, and also leaves the ultimate decision on how to do that to the governor,” said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office, which brought the original 1990 litigation over prison conditions that sparked the judges’ order.

“At this point, the governor is an inch away from contempt,” Specter said. “He must make every effort to comply immediately.”

The judges’ action makes it clear that they intend to force California to comply with an earlier order to reduce state prisons’ population to 137.5% of what those facilities were built to hold. That figure is currently at 150%.

If early release of inmates using good-behavior credits are not enough to reach the mandated mark by the end of 2013, the judges ordered, “defendants shall release the necessary number of prisoners to reach that goal by using the ... Low Risk List.”

The Low Risk List is a compilation of early-release candidates the judges previously have ordered California to create, but which has yet to be filed.

Citing California’s “repeated failure to take the necessary steps to remedy the constitutional violations in its prison system,” the judges noted that any efforts to amend the plan, or appeal it, will not delay their latest order.


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