Attempts to settle a case on California’s crowded prisons have reached an impasse over the issue of how many inmates the lockups should hold. The Los Angeles Times say that paves the way for a trial Nov. 17 that could lead a three-judge panel to order mass releases. Referee Elwood Liu, who presided over negotiations among state officials, prisoners’ rights attorneys and other parties, said, “We were not able to bring the ball across the goal line.” Andrea Hoch, the governor’s legal affairs secretary, said: “Agreement on a population level is key because all other settlement terms flow from that one item.”
The state’s adult prisons hold 158,000. Liu proposed setting the population at 158% of designed capacity — which under existing conditions would translate to 132,500 people — by Sept. 15, 2012. To help reduce the gap, parole violators and prisoners with short sentences would be sent to county-run programs instead of state penitentiaries. Liu said state officials and plaintiffs in two civil rights suits could not agree on a population level, benchmarks for achieving such a goal or a completion date for a population reduction. Republican lawmakers and 20 district attorneys, who intervened in the case, questioned whether overcrowding is the primary cause of inadequate health care. They opposed population caps and the diversion of low-risk inmates, citing public safety concerns.