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June 21, 2013

Federal judges issue new prisoner release order to force California to comply with prior orders

As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Federal judges order California to free 9,600 inmates," the ever on-going federal litigation concerning overcrowded California prisons took another notable turn yesterday. Here are the details:

A trio of federal judges ordered Gov. Jerry Brown to immediately begin freeing state inmates and waived state laws to allow early releases, threatening the governor with contempt if he does not comply.

Citing California's "defiance," "intransigence" and "deliberate failure" to provide inmates with adequate care in its overcrowded lockups, the judges on Thursday said Brown must shed 9,600 inmates — about 8% of the prison population — by the end of the year.

Unless he finds another way to ease crowding, the governor must expand the credits that inmates can earn for good behavior or participation in rehabilitation programs, the judges said. "We are willing to defer to their choice for how to comply with our order, not whether to comply with it," the judges wrote. "Defendants have consistently sought to frustrate every attempt by this court to achieve a resolution to the overcrowding problem."

If Sacramento does not meet the inmate cap on time, the judges said, it will have to release prisoners from a list of "low risk" offenders the court has told the administration to prepare.

Brown had already taken steps to appeal the court-imposed cap to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he vowed to fight the latest ruling as well. "The state will seek an immediate stay of this unprecedented order to release almost 10,000 inmates by the end of this year," he said in a statement.

He had immediate backing from the California Police Chiefs Assn. The court order shows "a complete disregard for the safety of communities across California," said the group's president, Covina Police Chief Kim Raney. "Pressing for 9,000 more inmates on the streets," Raney said, shows "an activist court more concerned with prisoners than the safety of the communities."

But a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said it did not expect to have to contend with a flood of ex-convicts to watch over. "It is never a positive step when prisoners have to be released," said spokesman Steve Whitmore, "but the Sheriff's Department is prepared for this eventuality."

Brown has until July 13 to file his full appeal with the high court, the same body that two years ago upheld findings that California prison conditions violated the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Lawyers for inmates, meanwhile, said Brown has few options but to let some prisoners go. "At this point, the governor is an inch away from contempt," said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office, which in 2001 filed one of two lawsuits on which the judges based their order. "He must make every effort to comply immediately." ... [T]he three-judge panel that oversees prison crowding, U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton and Thelton Henderson and U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt.... [in their] order accuses the state of "a series of contumacious actions" and challenges Brown's sincerity about obeying their orders. They noted that the governor lifted an emergency proclamation that allowed inmates to be transferred to prisons in other states, for example. Requests from prison lawyers that the administration be held in contempt "have considerable merit," the judges wrote.

The governor's reluctance to set prisoners free early has the backing of legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). He joked openly on Wednesday about intending to kill any population-reduction plans the courts might order the governor to submit to the Legislature. Republicans in the Legislature have pushed a plan to resume prison expansion in California....

California voters may be more willing than Brown to release inmates to reduce crowding. In a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, they were wary of sacrificing public safety, but at the same time supported steps to reduce crowding. Sixty-three percent said they favored releasing low-level, nonviolent offenders from prison early.

The full 51-page order in Coleman v. Brown coming from the special three judge panel can be accessed at this link.

June 21, 2013 at 08:30 AM | Permalink


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Personally i think the calif goverment hit the contempt point a decade ago. Just how many times can they tell a court to get fucked before the court get's off it's ass and starts locking them up?

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 21, 2013 10:17:32 AM

"It is never a positive step when prisoners have to be released,"

And that's the problem right there. Never? Not even after they have completed there lawful sentence? Oh hell no, lock em up and throw away the key...even if one has to break the law to do it. What a fantastic mentality.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 21, 2013 1:26:44 PM

The hole just keeps getting deeper, but, based on bad advice, Governor Brown just keeps digging.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Jun 21, 2013 3:52:29 PM

The three-judge panel is out to lunch. Wonder if they'll have the balls to face victims' families.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 21, 2013 8:06:11 PM

I wonder how many Calif. prisoners are low-level drug offenders with no non-drug convictions?

Posted by: William Jockusch | Jun 21, 2013 9:38:56 PM

Maybe the feds should look at their own overcrowded prisons as well. I'm tired of my tax dollars paying for inmates to be stockpiled and treated like dogs. Let's release the non-violent first time offenders and get them into rehabilitation programs and then start spending the money trying to really rehabilitate inmates rather than just punishing them.

Posted by: Jill | Jun 22, 2013 9:54:19 AM

Jill --

"I'm tired of my tax dollars paying for inmates to be stockpiled and treated like dogs. Let's release the non-violent first time offenders and get them into rehabilitation programs and then start spending the money trying to really rehabilitate inmates rather than just punishing them."

Are you the PR rep for LiLo?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 22, 2013 10:50:06 AM

Otis, are you the PR rep for mass incarceration?

Posted by: Steve Prof | Jun 22, 2013 2:01:09 PM

'rat "judges" doing what 'rat judges do. Who is surprised? Who cares about the innocent people who are going to be hurt by this lawless court?

I'll note that the "wise [sic] Latina" voted to enable this outrage. I wonder what wisdom (over and above that possessed by white males) led her to think that the three-judge panel's original decision was correct.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 23, 2013 9:28:14 PM

Well fed if i was one of those judges i could face em. i'd be happy to tell them that under the law i have no legal reason to keep them locked up in volation of the Constitution. That if they have a problem with that they basically have two choices. change the constitution to illegaly violate thier rights and destroy what's left of this country. Or the alternative. Get OUT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 24, 2013 12:02:06 AM

i truly hope all u losers thats complaining about inmates getting released early dont go to prison yourself or have a kid go to prison...because i want to see you eat your words

Posted by: stacy | Jul 9, 2013 9:53:20 AM

There are innocent people in prison and a disproportionate number of African Americans serving disproportionately longer sentences. Not to mention stupid laws like the three strikes law. I believe that some of these people can be let out. The crocks that caused brought the world to a near financial collapse; caused senior to lose their retirement savings and hard working middle class folks to lose the jobs, homes and dignity and still walking around free.

Posted by: Sharon | Dec 28, 2013 7:56:44 AM

What about the inmates placed in jail and they are there because someone lied to put them there. And the lies keep going and are made worse by the California Police especiallying the Southern California.
The Police have lied so many times to get a conviction I really do not believe that they know HOW to tell the truth.
Besides this they do not get inmates any medical care when needed.
I Know this for a fact because I have a family memeber incarcerated and he is innocent and has knee and back pain. Never any dr. saw him. And his lawyer NOT Appointed by the court is a joke.!

Posted by: C F C | Dec 31, 2013 10:55:25 PM

I think its a no other option, obviously it must be gawd awful in there the way they are packed in. And i am not talking about murder, rapist, sex offenders, or burglary ( i hate them)Low Level offenders, I am all for it!My son is in prison and this is his first trip, however he might not qualify, even at a level one prisoner and that is the lowest level. So the idiot that said what about the victims family? You are only reading what you want to see, it never said all these 9,600 inmates do not necessarily have a sentence that involved an innocent victim, (just themselves)It did say non-violent offenders.Some are even innocent i believe, as i have recently seen all the corruptness that CPS is involved in making deals with the devil when the greed set in. I am hoping and im not sure about any thing with the legal system that the judge is a man that is going along with CPS only because he should be able to trust the Social Workers report, and that is why it is getting by him. I doubt it though. The Judges are in on the cash that children whom are adoptable rake in and rake it right into all there pockets. Lisa Williamson

Posted by: lisa williamson | Jan 28, 2014 8:15:08 PM

I am a Grandmother of two young children and a mother to a son whom is now in prison. My Grand kids are being adopted already, it has only been seven months and CPS has lied tricked in ruthless ways, I still have not been told why i did not get placement into my home, six months, i was given false hope by the worker as court dates went by,and waiting, wondering, worry all the time, thinking what are the kids thinking? Where is my Grandma? I guess i am off the topic, I know there is dirty cops, so why wouldn't there be dirty politics? And judges? I could go on and on. I apologize. Sincerely, Lisa L. Williamson

Posted by: lisa williamson | Jan 28, 2014 8:29:58 PM

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