SACRAMENTO — A panel of federal judges, accusing California officials of obstruction, on Thursday denied the state's request to delay an order to produce a plan for reducing its prison population by 40,000 inmates.
Aides to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said they would take their request to the U.S. Supreme Court today.
The judges issued their order on Aug. 4 in two long-running lawsuits by inmates. The state asked for a delay pending its appeal of the order to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was filed separately Thursday.
In rejecting the state's motion for the delay only two days after it was filed, the judges said they had been "more than patient with the state and its officials" and harshly criticized them for "conflicting representations" in court that have caused the cases to drag on.
The judges said, as they had in their initial order, that they would approve a delay in implementing the plan to reduce overcrowding while an appeal by the state runs its course. But they were unwilling to let the state have more time to come up with the plan itself.
"Further delays and obstruction will not well serve the people of the state and will not be tolerated by this court," wrote U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton and U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt.
In their order last month, the judges said overcrowding is the primary cause of substandard healthcare and mental healthcare in state prisons. They required the state to produce a plan by Sept. 18 to relieve the overcrowding.
State officials, in requesting the delay, had said the judges' order was unjustified, contending that prison overcrowding was not the main cause of poor care and that reducing the number of inmates would not fix it. They also said the judges had not allowed enough time for a court-appointed overseer of inmate healthcare to make improvements before ordering the prisoner-reduction plan.
The officials also said they would be wasting taxpayer resources by putting together a plan that ultimately might be unnecessary after an appeal of the order.
But the judges noted that a legitimate proposal to reduce prison overcrowding already exists, supported by Schwarzenegger. The plan was approved by the state Senate, and a scaled-down version passed in the Assembly.
"Indeed, the state has already completed much of the necessary work to develop a plan that could satisfy much or all of our order," the judges wrote.