SACRAMENTO -- Three federal judges have given California Gov. Jerry Brown a 30-day extension on their order to reduce prison crowding, buying time for confidential talks between lawyers for the state and those representing inmates.
The order, delivered Tuesday afternoon, was well-received by prisoners’ lawyers, who had largely been left out of negotiations between Brown and the Legislature over prison-crowding solutions.
“We’re always willing to try and negotiate an agreement that will benefit the state and the prisoners,” said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office. He said he did not believe a one-month delay in reducing prison crowding would make a big difference in the 23-year-old litigation.
Brown’s lawyers had asked the federal courts for a three-year delay in the Dec. 31 deadline to remove roughly 9,600 inmates from California’s overcrowded prison system, where medical and psychiatric care is so poor that incarceration has been deemed unconstitutionally cruel. The governor offered to use that time to invest in community probation and rehabilitation programs, with the aim of reducing the number of repeat offenders being sent to prison.
The judges directed lawyers for the state and for prisoners to immediately begin confidential talks, and to report back by Oct. 21. In the meantime, the deadline to reduce crowding has been pushed to Jan. 27.
Both sides are directed to discuss “a durable solution to the prison crowding problem,” including California’s three-strike laws, detention of juveniles, the elderly and medically infirm, as well as the detention of individuals on federal immigration holds. The judges are also requiring lawyers from both sides to discuss early release of low-risk prisoners, and “any other means, including relocation within the state” that have been offered as solutions.
As part of those talks, the judges’ order said, “the parties may also discuss any necessary or desirable extension” of the population cap, “as well as any other matters they deem appropriate.”