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Deal to cut prison population faces skepticism from inmates' lawyers

September 09, 2013|By Paige St. John and Chris Megerian

SACRAMENTO -- A deal reached Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders to reduce the state's prison population was greeted warily by lawyers representing inmates who have sued California over conditions behind bars.

“The governor hasn’t built up a lot of trust here,” said Michael Bien, who is handling a lawsuit over mental healthcare. 

The lawyers for inmates were not involved in negotiations over the weekend, and Brown said they had no role in reaching a deal.

A panel of three federal judges has ordered the state to reduce its prison population by 9,600 inmates by the end of the year.

As part of a compromise reached with Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), the governor agreed to ask the judges for more time to comply with the order. If the extension is granted or the order is loosened, the state would use the breathing room to expand rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing the number of former inmates who commit new crimes and return to prison.

However, if the judges reject the request, the state will move forward with Brown's original plan -- spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to house inmates in private prisons and other alternate facilities.

Bien said it's unlikely the judges will grant Brown another extension -- the original deadline for reducing the prison population was June 30 -- if the request is not supported by the lawyers.

Right now, he said, the lawyers are skeptical of allowing the state more time to meet the court order, which was originally issued in August 2009 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2011.

“We are supportive of the effort to reduce the total burden on prisons by changing California laws … but we have not agreed to the length of time," Bien said.

Brown said he thought there was a chance the judges would go along with the state's revised plan.

“There are little smoke signals emanating from the mountaintops," he told reporters on Monday.


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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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