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Jerry Brown tours prison after court ruling on crowding

April 23, 2013|By Paige St. John | This post has been updated. See note below for details.
  • Inmates in a dormitory at the California Institution for Men in Chino, which Gov. Jerry Brown visited last week.
Inmates in a dormitory at the California Institution for Men in Chino, which… (Image filed in U.S. District…)

Freshly home from his trade tour of China, Gov. Jerry Brown made a quiet and unannounced stop: prison.

The governor spent a little more than an hour on Friday at the California Institution for Men, a state prison in Chino. He was accompanied by his corrections secretary, Jeffrey Beard, and the prison system's head psychologist and acting chief of inmate mental healthcare, Tim Belavich.

[Updated, 2:15 p.m. April 23: Brown, who spoke about the trip on Tuesday, said he found no support for allegations of a continued crisis in care, even from staff hired by the court's medical receiver.

"The chief medical director appointed by the receiver says that the charges of the plaintiffs are just not true. Some of them spoke more strongly and said that they’re lying, distorting the facts," Brown told reporters. He repeated his vow to fight any court order to release inmates from the state's still-crowded prisons. Federal judges have deemed that crowding prevents adequate delivery of medical and mental health care to inmates.

The governor also said he has hired a team of “Washington lawyers” to appeal the court ruling, while working with legislative leaders to craft a plan to lower the prison population by another 10,000 inmates should those legal appeals fail.]

Brown had pledged to visit state prisons when he learned while abroad earlier this month that a panel of federal judges had refused his motion to end control over prison crowding and rejected his claims that issues over substandard inmate care no longer exist. Just prior to that, one of those judges had ruled California continues to provide unconstitutionally poor psychiatric care to inmates.

The prison that Brown chose, according to recent state population reports, houses 4,666 inmates but was designed to hold 2,976. That puts it at 157% design capacity, and well over the court's target of 137.5%. One of the four facilities within the Chino prison complex includes large dormitory units housing as many as 140 prisoners on bunk beds stacked close together.

Images of those dorms were part of the material that prisoners' rights lawyers presented to a federal judge last month to show crowding remains a problem in California prisons. The federal judges have given Brown until May 2 to present a plan to lower the inmate population.

There are no photographs of the governor's tour, which kept a low profile, said Lt. Dirk Williams, the public information officer for the Chino prison.

Brown has vowed to appeal the rulings. Last week, state lawyers requested transcripts of previous courtroom hearings in anticipation of filing that appeal.

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