Gov. Jerry Brown in January declared California's prison crisis… (Paige St. John / Los Angeles…)
Gov. Jerry Brown has asked a federal judicial panel to ice its order to release some 9,600 inmates from California's crowded prisons, asking it be put on hold until a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could take another year.
The stay sought by the governor's office was filed late Friday afternoon with federal judges in Sacramento and Oakland, as well as the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The state's reasons: "Defendants will be irreparably harmed absent a stay, the balance of hardships tips sharply in Defendants’ favor, public interest weighs heavily in favor of granting the stay, and Defendants have a strong likelihood of success on the merits."
The three-judge panel last week had given Brown until the end of the year to reduce the state's inmate population to 137.5% of what prisons were built to hold, as a means to improve medical care and psychiatric treatment. The federal court previously has ruled that California prison conditions amount to cruel and unusual punishment and that inmates die needlessly.
"We are providing a constitutional level of care to California inmates and have already cut the prison population by approximately 43,000 inmates since 2006 and invested more than a billion dollars in improvements to medical and mental health in prisons,” said state corrections department spokesman Jeffrey Callison.
Brown already has begun appealing the prison release order to the Supreme Court but has asked Justice Kennedy to postpone the deadline for the state's initial brief until late August. That timeline could put California on track to be before the Supreme Court for arguments next spring.
"The state’s request for a stay is just another meritless stalling tactic," said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office, which initiated the medical care class action lawsuit at the core of the dispute in 2001.
"If there’s a stay, which in my opinion is very doubtful, the state wouldn’t have to comply with the three judge orders to reduce the population until the Supreme Court rules, which could be a year from now."
[Updated at 5:40 p.m. June 28: Brown’s lawyers told the court the governor’s corrections department is moving forward with setting up a process to identify inmates for early release and expects to be done by July 19. Short of intervention by the panel or the Supreme Court, California will comply with the order to release prisoners, Brown’s lawyers said.]
[For the record, 5:50 p.m. June 28: An earlier version of this post gave 1997 as the date of the medical care class action suit. It was 2001.]
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