Federal judges who have been trying for more than a decade to improve medical care in California’s overcrowded prisons called Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest plans insufficient and cleared the way Monday for a three-judge panel to cap the state’s prison population. The rare move has the potential to trigger the release of inmates, though experts say less drastic measures also might appease the judges, who years ago found medical and mental care in California’s 33 prisons unconstitutional, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Schwarzenegger’s plans to add prison beds and transfer inmates to out-of-state lockups won’t relieve severe overcrowding for at least two years, wrote U.S. District Judges Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento and Thelton Henderson of San Francisco in their orders. Karlton said he came to his decision to trigger consideration of a prison population cap “with extreme reluctance but firm conviction.” “The court wishes to observe again that overcrowding is the state’s problem, and in the interim, the court again urges the state to find its own solution to the crisis,” he wrote.