Prison Settlement Talks Between State and Feds Break Down

Settlement talks collapsed Friday in a court case that could lead to the early release of tens of thousands of California prisoners. As KPCC's Julie Small reports, a panel of federal judges will move forward with a trial this fall to determine whether to put a cap on the state inmate population to improve prison health care.

Julie Small: The failed settlement proposed diverting tens of thousands of prisoners to local and county facilities, home arrest, and drug rehab programs. Attorneys for inmates said it would relieve the overcrowding that has delayed medical and mental health care for prisoners. But it required a change in California law, and attorney Steve Kaufield says his Republican clients from the state legislature said no way.

Steve Kaufield: We need a comprehensive solution to this problem and something that goes beyond simply releasing people from prison, particularly with the irony that it will be the more healthy inmates that would probably be released. We don't think that would solve the problems with health care or with mental health.

Small: Kaufield believes the federal judges won't cap California's prison population if the legislature moves quickly with plans to increase the number of prison beds, medical facilities, and staff. But inmate attorney Michael Bien says it's too late for that.

Michael Bien: We need to get the relief to our clients as rapidly as possible.

Small: Bien says inmates are dying because they aren't getting the care they need, and suicides are at an all time high. The only way to improve conditions, he says, is to have fewer prisoners. The three federal judges will consider the merits of that argument in November.

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