Federal judges give California six more months to reduce prison crowding

Several hundred inmates crowded the gymnasium at San Quentin prison in 2009.
Several hundred inmates crowded the gymnasium at San Quentin prison in 2009.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg

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California has six more months to reduce overcrowding in the prisons, a panel of judges ruled this week.

The federal judges capped the prison population in 2009 when they determined that overcrowding prevented inmates from getting basic healthcare.

At the time, California prisons were packed to nearly double the number of inmates for which they were designed--180 percent of capacity.  The judges ordered officials to reduce the population to 137.5 percent by June 27 2013. 

Since then, California has reduced the inmate population by 24,000, but the prisons still hold 9,000 more inmates than the court ordered.  State officials asked for another six months to reach the goal. 

They also filed motions asking to be freed from the prison population cap and to end federal oversight of mental health care in the prisons. Officials argue they already provide quality care to inmates at the current level of crowing.

On Tuesday, the three-judge court gave California until December 27, 2013 to reduce crowding in its prisons, but said they wouldn't consider California’s arguments to vacate the population order until they get more information. They asked California officials if they also plan to file a motion to end federal oversight of prison medical care.

In their order the judges wrote, “it would be a waste of judicial resources for this Court to begin to determine any issue” until they know the full scope of what the state wants. They gave officials two weeks to reply.

Until they decide otherwise, they said, California is obligated to curb its prison population and follow all court-mandated improvents to prison healthcare.