California prison population drops by 8,000 since realignment

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The number of inmates in California prisons has dropped by 8,000 since “realignment” took effect Oct. 1. Court papers state officials filed Thursday indicate the change. Officials reported the new numbers Thursday under a federal court order to reduce crowding in the prisons.

In its monthly status report to the court, officials said the state prison population dropped by 8,218 between Oct. 5 and Dec. 7.

California prison officials say the transfer of low-level felons to county officials that began in October will allow the state to meet a court-ordered reduction a month after a Dec. 27 deadline.

The state’s prison population has declined from a record high of 173,000 in 2006 to the current population of 135,000. But many prisons remain packed with almost twice the number of inmates they were designed to hold.

About two years ago, attorneys at the Prison Law Office convinced a panel of three federal judges that crowded conditions prevented inmates from getting basic medical care. The judges ordered California to reduce the state inmate population within two years.

In March this year the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that order.

The court order and state budget deficits convinced state lawmakers to enact Gov. Jerry Brown's historic "realignment" plan that shifts responsibility for non-serious, non-violent, non-sex offenders to counties. The Llegislature also diverted some sales tax and vehicle licensing revenues in the next fiscal year to help local government pay for the new responsibility. The law took effect Oct. 1.

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