California officials, under U.S. Supreme Court orders to lower the population of its crowded prisons by 33,000 to bring a shoddy health care system up to constitutional standards, say they can’t comply and shouldn’t have to, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The state told a three-judge federal panel that it can provide adequate medical care at higher population levels – about 6,000 higher – than the Supreme Court required in its 2011 ruling. The state rejected the three-judge court’s suggestion that it could comply with the population standards by releasing some prisoners early without endangering the public. Those possibilities would include granting inmates greater sentence reductions for good behavior and expanding Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment program, which has moved low-level felons from prisons to county jails. “The Supreme Court did not authorize the early release of prisoners,” state lawyers told the court.
Continued enforcement of the requirement to reduce the inmate population to 112,000 by next June, they argued, “will come at a significant, and legally unnecessary, cost to the state” and also “interferes with the state’s democratic processes.” Instead, state lawyers said, the court should increase the population target to 118,000, a goal the prisons can meet by March 2013. Improvements in prison health care – under federal court supervision since 2006 – show that “constitutionally adequate” care can be provided without further reductions, the lawyers said. Describing Brown’s actions in the case as “disgraceful,” inmate lawyer Don Specter said the prisoners would ask to hold state officials in contempt if they defied the population-reduction orders.