A panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals says California can have until January 27, 2014 to comply with its order to reduce prison overcrowding in the state. California had been facing a December 31, 2013 deadline. During the extra month the court has ordered the state and plaintiffs in the prison lawsuit to hold discussions on long-term solutions to overcrowding. The sides can then present their agreed-upon plan to the panel in January and ask for a further extension to carry it out.
The judges ruled the talks must specifically address three strikes convicts, juvenile inmates and elderly and infirm prisoners among others.
The state legislature had asked the court for a three-year-extension while it implemented a plan aimed at reducing overcrowding. But plaintiff’s attorney Don Specter said he never anticipated the court would grant that request.
“By signaling they’re only willing to provide a month’s extension it shows that they’re serious about keeping to the time limits and only extend it if they see some serious progress during the negotiations,” he said.
Specter called the ruling a "reasonable and positive" step that he hopes will lead to productive discussion.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it is evaluating the ruling.
In a statement, Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg called the ruling an opportunity to “craft a longer term extension.” Steinberg opposed Governor Jerry Brown’s initial plan of transferring prisoners to private, expensive facilities in an effort to meet population reduction requirements set by the court.
“The state should spend only what is absolutely necessary on bed capacity,” Steinberg said in his statement. “The majority of taxpayer resources in this area should be directed to proven ways to reduce the revolving door of offense, sentence, release, and re-offense.”
Steinberg’s opposition threatened to derail Brown’s prison plan at the end of this year’s legislative session. But he and the governor eventually settled on a plan that would move forward with the inmate transfers unless the court granted an extension. Any money saved from delaying the transfers was to go to programs aimed at keeping people out of jail.
The Ninth Circuit has ruled California will not be allowed to send any inmates to out-of-state facilities while the negotiations continue.