A panel of federal judges Tuesday ordered California to begin planning to reduce its prison population by more than 40,000.
The three-judge District Court panel was appointed to address two ongoing lawsuits brought by prison advocates — one arguing that the health care provided to prisoners is not adequate under the state constitution, and the other arguing that mental health care is inadequate.
In Tuesday’s order, the judges ruled that a reduction in the prison population is needed in order for the state to be able to provide adequate health care and mental health care.
The judge presiding over the health care side of the case placed the prison medical system under receivership in 2006, and the receiver has requested the state build billions of dollars in bond-financed health facilities, which officials have resisted.
California has about 160,000 prisoners in facilities designed for less than 80,000.
The order comes with the prison system at the center of a legislative budget fight that was not resolved in the recent state budget deal.
The budget includes $786 million in cuts to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation budget, but leaves the cuts as “unallocated,” meaning lawmakers are expected to figure them out in the last four weeks of their current session, which ends Sept. 11.
Sen. John Benoit, R-Bermuda Dunes, the ranking minority member of the Senate’s Public Safety Committee, promised a fight against the ruling.
“This ruling by activist federal judges is an egregious and dangerous violation of states’ rights that I believe the Supreme Court will overturn,” he said in a news release.
Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said lawmakers will get the job done.
“We will return in August to produce reform that saves money, protects public safety, and takes back the control of our prison system,” he said in a statement.
The judges gave the state 45 days to produce a plan that would reduce the prison population within two years.