prison cell
Empty cells don't exist in California's overcrowded prisons. Image: laura padgett/Flickr/CC BY-ND

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered California authorities to reduce the state’s severely over-crowded prison populations. Tuesday Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration responded by saying its plan to shift some inmates to local jails will eventually correct the situation, but the funds to do so remain stalled by state lawmakers.

Overcrowded by 180 percent

According to the most current records, California’s 33 prisons house 143,565 inmates. The space was designed for a capacity of less than 80,000, meaning that the prisons are overcrowded to the tune of 180 percent. The Supreme court says the congestion doesn’t allow for adequate medical and mental health care for inmates. Last month, the state was given two years to reduce that number by 33,000 inmates.

The state administration cited all the measures it has taken in recent years to reduce prison population, such as sending 10,000 inmates to other states. But its further compliance with inmate reduction rests on a plan Gov. Brown signed into law earlier this month.

Funding remains stalled

The plan Brown signed this month involves shifting lower-level inmates to county facilities. It cannot go into effect, however, unless local governments receive the funding necessary to provide required cells and rehabilitation services. That effort remains stalled in the State Legislature. Republican lawmakers have blocked Brown’s proposed extension of temporary increases in vehicle, sales and personal income tax, which are set to expire at the end of June.

‘Well-defined and prudent plans’

“We have well-defined and prudent plans to continue work in meeting the court mandate to reduce the population and improve inmate health care,” said J. Clark Kelso, the receiver appointed to oversee health care in the prisons. “I will continue to work collaboratively with state and legislative leadership to resolve the issues we face, but the time to make those tough decisions is now.”

No extension request yet

The governor’s administration has admitted it may not be able to meet the court’s demands of reducing population by more than 10,000 by the end of November. There has been no request for an extension, however. “What we’ve said is we’re going to move forward with this plan, and we’ll ask for more time if we need it,” said Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate at a news conference.


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