High Court Refuses to Hear California Prison Overcrowding Case

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LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear California Gov. Jerry Brown’s appeal of a lower court ruling that the state cut its prison population by 9,600 prisoners to improve medical and mental health treatment.

The justices didn’t comment on their Tuesday decision, which maintains a ruling by a three-judge panel ordering the reduction.

“In the last two years, California has made the most significant reforms to our criminal justice system in decades, reducing the prison population by 25,000 inmates,” said Deborah Hoffman, assistant secretary of communications for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in a prepared statement.

While state officials are disappointed the state’s case won’t be heard, they plan to continue to build on these landmark reforms with their law enforcement and local government partners under Senate Bill 105, said Hoffman, who spoke for the Brown administration.

Passed in September, SB 105 authorized up to $315 million to increase in-state and out-of-state prison capacity in the near term and proposed reform measures like community service to deal with recidivism.

The state received on Sept. 24 a 30-day extension on a Dec. 31 deadline to reduce prison overcrowding from three federal judges. State officials had hoped for a three-year extension to implement reforms to deal with overcrowding, using the money saved from leasing additional prison beds.

The extension on the deadline to reduce the prison population to 137.5% of capacity also provided time for negotiations between the state’s lawyers and those representing the inmates in the 23-year-old lawsuit.

Brown and state lawmakers had asked for a three-year extension to reduce the prison population to institute programs to reduce the state’s incarceration rate through community probation and rehabilitation programs.

The federal order came with instructions that the state not sign any further contracts for private prison beds out of state. State officials have continued to negotiate out-of-state contracts to deal with prison overcrowding despite the order. A key part of Brown’s plan to deal with overcrowding focused on using out-of-state contracts for private prison beds.

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