California wants new prison population cap

Aug. 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM
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SACRAMENTO, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Prison officials in California say it's unlikely they will be able to reduce the state's inmate population by next June as mandated by three federal judges.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May 2011 determined California's prisons were so overcrowded and healthcare so poor, incarceration there was tantamount to "cruel and unusual punishment."

The court gave the state two years to reduce prison overcrowding to 137.5 percent of capacity.

State officials said it's unlikely to reach that level by mid-2013 and said they would like a new cap of 145 percent, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

"Reducing the inmate population is not the goal of the court," corrections agency spokesman Bill Sessa said. "It is a means to an end, which is providing better healthcare that was compromised by overcrowding."

At 145 percent of capacity, roughly 118,000 prisoners would be living in quarters built for 81,500 people, which is about 6,000 more than the high court wanted.

Three federal judges said the state has until Friday to come up with a plan to identify prisoners "unlikely to re-offend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release" and other ways to reduce the prison population, the Times reported.

The Public Policy Institute of California noted the state's prison population peaked at 173,000 in 2006 before falling to 163,000 by the end of 2010 and to 141,000 by March 2012.

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