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Brown asks lawyers to review judges' order on prison population

The governor, traveling in China, has asked his lawyers to review a new order from a panel of federal judges requiring him to file a fresh plan for reducing the state's prison population.

April 13, 2013|By Anthony York, Los Angeles Times
  • Gov. Jerry Brown, shown at a news conference in Sacramento in 2012, says he's asked his lawyers to review a new order from a panel of federal judges requiring him to file a fresh plan for reducing the state’s prison population. He's currently on a trade tour of China.
Gov. Jerry Brown, shown at a news conference in Sacramento in 2012, says… (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

SHANGHAI — California Gov. Jerry Brown said Saturday that he has asked his lawyers to review a new order from a panel of federal judges requiring him to file a fresh plan for reducing the state's prison population.

The judges have threatened to hold state officials, including Brown, in contempt if they fail to comply within three weeks.

"I did speak with my lawyers. I said, 'Take a good look at this stuff,'" Brown told reporters as he headed for a Huangpu River cruise with Yao Ming, a former NBA star turned Napa Valley winemaker.

"We'll review it very, very carefully," the governor said. "We take it seriously."

In 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the judges' order that California drastically reduce the prison crowding that they said had led to substandard healthcare for inmates. Brown said the prison healthcare system has improved substantially since that ruling.

"Things have changed," said the governor, who is on a trade tour of China. "We've spent billions and billions of dollars …. We're spending over $15,000 for each prisoner on their healthcare. That's two and three times what the average free citizen in California gets."

Brown said that if the high court rejects his argument that the number of inmates has been sufficiently lowered and healthcare is now adequate, state officials will create a plan to remove more prisoners. On Thursday, the judges in California rejected the governor's position and wielded the contempt threat.

"When we get an order from a federal court, we do comply," Brown said Saturday, "subject to appeal."

Currently, the prisons have 119,542 inmates, or 149.5% of the number they were designed to hold, according to a report released this week by the corrections department.

Nearly 10,000 more offenders must be removed by the end of the year for the state to be in compliance with the court.

The governor kept a lighter schedule Saturday after six days of marathon meetings and lavish banquets in Beijing and Shanghai.

Carrying a copy of James Fallows' "China Airborne" under his arm, he met with Han Zheng, the Communist Party secretary of Shanghai. Saturday night, Brown clinked glasses with Yao Ming, who has begun exporting Napa Valley wine to China under the Yao Family Wines label.

Brown was set to leave Shanghai via bullet train Sunday morning for California's sister province of Nanjing, and then proceed to Guangzhou.

anthony.york@latimes.com

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