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Calif. protests court order for inmate reduction

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POSTED August 19, 2012 9:53 p.m.

SACRAMENTO . (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is protesting a federal court order to provide a timetable for releasing prison inmates to ease overcrowding at state prisons.

The state filed a response to the order late Friday, calling the court’s demand for a timetable “unwarranted” and requesting a suspension of previously ordered prison crowding limits, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

A three-judge panel has given California until June 2013 to decrease its prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity or 112,000 inmates, but the state has said it does not expect to meet that target date and expects to lower the population to only 145 percent of capacity.

That admission prompted the judges two weeks ago to issue the order for a schedule of inmate releases.

The legal wrangling is the latest step in a long running lawsuit over medical and mental health care at the state’s prisons. Judges in two federal courts have ruled that the poor prison health care system leads to an “unconscionable degree of suffering and death” and placed the system in the control of a court-appointed receiver.

In its legal filing Friday, the government contends that the opening of a large prison medical facility in Stockton will alleviate many of the issues, eliminate the need for a receiver, and as such, said a timetable for early releases was legally inappropriate.

The state also said that if it has to comply with the lower inmate population threshold, it would not be able to save money by returning 9,000 inmates housed at out-of-state for-profit prisons because it would have to pay county jails for housing more state inmates.

Inmate advocates say the government is simply being intransigent. “Every step in the process, they have dug in their heels,” said Rebekah Evenson, a lawyer for the Prison Law Office, which filed the class action lawsuit 10 years ago.

The state has reduced its overcrowding to 150 percent of capacity by having 24,000 low-level offenders serve time in county jails.

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