(Adds comment from governor, details or order, background)
By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. Feb 10 California won two
additional years to reduce overcrowding in its massive prison
system under an order issued on Monday by a panel of federal
judges, in the latest twist in a decades-long dispute over
prison conditions and medical care for inmates.
"The state now has the time and resources necessary to help
inmates become productive members of society and make our
communities safer," Democratic Governor Jerry Brown said in a
The court-appointed panel, which oversees prison crowding
cases in California, said it was granting the extension to
February 2016 because the state had promised to develop
comprehensive reforms to its prison system, which houses about
120,000 inmates in facilities designed to hold about 80,000.
The extension was a victory for Brown, who has resisted
complying with previous orders to reduce crowding, arguing they
were unnecessary and could result in the inappropriate release
of dangerous inmates.
The judges said they would appoint a compliance officer to
oversee implementation of reforms, and they ordered Brown not to
appeal the compliance officer's orders for at least two years.
The state has been under court orders to reduce inmate
numbers since 2009, when the same panel ordered it to relieve
overcrowding that several courts, including the U.S. Supreme
Court, have said was to blame for inadequate medical and
Under the order, California must reduce its prison
population to 143 percent of capacity by June 30, 2014, to 141.5
percent of capacity by Feb. 28, 2015, and to 137.5 percent of
capacity, or roughly 110,000 inmates, by Feb. 28, 2016.
California prisons have been in the spotlight for the past
year as officials wrestled with crowding and concerns about the
use of long-term solitary confinement for prisoners with
suspected gang ties, which led to a hunger strike last year.
Reforms the state must implement include a system of credits
for good behavior and it must develop alternative incarceration
proposals for women inmates. It must also develop a new parole
system for inmates over age 60 who have served 25 years or more.
California must submit monthly progress reports. If crowding
is not reduced according to the court's timeline, the compliance
officer could order the state to release inmates into society,
whether or not they are up for parole.
Inmates chosen for release must not be seen as likely to
commit violent crimes, and may not be chosen from among those
condemned to death or serving life sentences without the
possibility of parole, the judges said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston,
Leslie Adler, Toni Reinhold)