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Reducing prison crowding is up to Legislature, Brown says

Reducing prison crowding is up to Legislature, Brown says
Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared California’s prison crisis “over” and vowed to fight court orders to lower prison populations.
(Paige St. John)

Laywers for Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday argued that he should not be held in contempt for failing to comply with federal court orders to reduce prison crowding, saying it is now up to the Legislature to act.

Brown in April offered the federal court plans to reduce prison crowding by about 7,000 more inmates, “under protest” and still not enough to meet the court’s population caps. Legislative leaders said they opposed most of what the governor proposed, such as continuing to pay private companies to house inmates out of state. The day after Brown failed to include funding for many of his proposals in his own budget, prisoners rights lawyers on May 15 asked a panel of three federal judges to hold the governor in contempt.

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The state has not “outright refused” to obey the court, Brown’s lawyers responded in a legal filing, accusing prisoners’ lawyers of a “flawed assumption that the governor and the other executive defendants can direct the actions of the Legislature.”

However, beyond asking lawmakers for funding to continue operation of fire camps that can absorb some of the overflow prisoners, Brown has not sought funding nor filed legislation to enact his other proposals. Brown, who already has started the process of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, said he did not plan to seek state funding until the court ordered it.

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State lawyers Wednesday also repeated their contention that further shrinking of the state’s inmate population would “undermine the population reduction gains already achieved under realignment.” The Legislature this year fought off a growing number of bills to require the state to retake custody of certain classes of criminals now housed in county jails.

California’s prison population has shrunk by 42,000 inmates since 2006, including 24,000 since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 upheld findings that prison conditions remained cruelly unconstitutional.

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paige.stjohn@latimes.com


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