Judges reject Gov. Brown's prison realignment plan

Judges reject Gov. Brown's prison realignment plan
An inmate uses the recreation room of one of the housing units at Sacramento County's Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove, Calif., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A panel of federal judges on Thursday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's attempt to circumvent its long-standing order for reducing California's prison population, the latest step in an ongoing legal drama over how to improve the medical and mental health care for state inmates.

The judges stopped short of citing the Democratic governor for contempt of court, as they had threatened earlier this year.

The plan submitted by the Brown administration in May to further reduce the inmate population failed to meet the judges' mandate because it fell short of the court-ordered population cap by 2,300 inmates, the judges said in their 51-page order. That order has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judges reiterated in their ruling that the governor must comply with the original order to reduce the population to 110,000 inmates by the end of the year. They ordered Brown to take all the steps he outlined in May, as well as one more step — the expansion of good-time credits leading to early release. Brown had offered that as an option, but it was not one he was willing to embrace.

The governor's plan for getting closer to the required level called for sending more inmates to firefighting camps, leasing cells at county jails, slowing the return of thousands of inmates now housed in private prisons in other states, increasing early release credits for nonviolent inmates and paroling elderly felons.

The judges said they want the administration to implement all the measures regardless of whether they conflict with any state or local laws.

The ruling from the three-judge panel was expected, and the governor already has filed notice that he intends to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the administration is reviewing the order and had no immediate comment. However, the administration is expected to ask the courts to stay the judges' order while its appeal is underway.

At issue is how far the state must go in reducing its inmate population to meet a previous court order to improve medical and mental health treatment. The courts have said that prison overcrowding is the main cause of care that fails to meet the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.