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California report paints new picture of prison crowding

March 11, 2013|By Paige St. John
  • Inmates return to their cells after showering in a cell block at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy. Built in 1953, the prison houses more than 3,700 convicts in a facility designed for about 1,700 inmates.
Inmates return to their cells after showering in a cell block at Deuel Vocational… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

Lawyers for California inmates say overcrowding within the state's prisons is worse than corrections officials admit, and they cite a state report as the basis for their claim.

The document surfaced last week as Gov. Jerry Brown's administration and lawyers representing prisoners prepare their arguments in a federal court battle over whether the state's prison crisis is, as Brown claimed in January, "over."

Prisoner lawyers filed a motion on Monday morning to admit the 2011 document, a study on prison capacity, into the record. They say the study shows corrections officials and their experts calculated the current safe operating capacity of the state's prisons at 103,470 inmates.

That is 15,600 fewer than the number of inmates now housed in state prisons. It also is about 6,000 beds fewer than what federal courts have set as a cap for California to reach as part of an order to provide inmates with constitutionally adequate care.

However, the state report also showed that experts believed California could increase the number of inmates it could safely house to nearly 129,000, primarily by maximizing the time prisoners spend out of their cells. The report's authors said that higher number illustrates the potential gain for the state, even if it could not implement those programs in every prison.

Brown has said the debate over the capacity of state prisons is an artificial one, with little bearing at this point on the quality of care inmates receive. Medical experts working for the courts, the state and prisoners' lawyers are currently touring state prisons in preparation for courtroom arguments over whether that care is now adequate.

[Updated, 4:38 p.m. March 11: "California’s prisoners have enough room. It’s the way we calculate capacity that’s the problem," said Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The three judges hearing the litigation Monday afternoon agreed to allow the report into the record and gave California five days to respond.]


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