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Court Order Halts Plan to Ship Prisoners Out of State

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By William Peacock, Esq. on September 30, 2013 3:17 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown is going to need to adjust his plan to cure overcrowding in California prisons.

Last week, a federal court denied the state's request for a three-year extension to cure overcrowding woes, granting it a four-week extension instead. The court also ordered the state to cease contracting with out-of-state prisons to transfer the excess inmates.

What's the plan now? Though some private in-state prisons may have rooms for rent, it's looking more and more like prisoner releases will be forthcoming.

Crunching Capacity

Current state prisons are designed for a capacity of about 82,000 inmates, yet they currently house about 118,000. That means they're at 144 percent of capacity, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The federal court overseeing the case has ordered the state to reduce the population to 137.5 percent capacity, or by roughly 8,000 prisoners.

Contracts Signed, Negotiated, Prohibited

Perhaps the biggest restriction set forth by last week's court order was the ban on contracting with out-of-state private prisons to transfer the excess capacity.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the ban does not extend to in-state facilities. Last Monday, Geo Group announced a contract with the state to lease two private prisons, in Kern and San Bernardino counties, giving the state an additional 1,400 beds. The state has also been in negotiations with Corrections Corp. of America, which owns a California City facility currently used to house federal immigration detainees.

A Brief Extension, With Conditions

The deadline, previously set for December 31, 2013, was extended by the court for four weeks, rather than the three years sought by the state. In the meantime, the court ordered the parties to "meet and confer," regarding any further extensions and possible remedies, such as releasing juveniles, three-strike offenders, elderly and infirm inmates, and immigration detainees.

Earlier this month, a report on inmates released under Prop 36's Three Strikes reform showed that the released inmates, despite having little to no support services upon release, had a recidivism rate of less than 2 percent, compared to 16 percent for inmates overall.

Approximately 2,000 inmates are still awaiting consideration for release under the program.

According to the Mercury News, Gov. Brown has previously stated that he was not open to the idea of releasing additional offenders, as it would endanger the public.

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