Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he has moved to end a federal court order capping the state's prison population and another that requires intensive oversight of prison mental-health care.
"After decades of judicial intervention in our correctional system and the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars, the time has come to restore California's rightful control of its prison system," according to Brown, who held news conferences in Los Angeles and Sacramento to announce the effort.
The governor said the state has complied with a federal judge's order to find ways to achieve further reductions in the number of inmates in the state's 33 prisons.
California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation Secretary Jeff Beard said the state's prison health-care system "is now a model for the nation."
"Independent expert reviews have found that California's prison medical and mental health care systems meet constitutional standards," he said. "It would be both unnecessary and unsafe for the courts to order further inmate reductions."
Brown also announced that he has signed a proclamation ending the prison overcrowding emergency that has been in place since 2006. The move will allows the state to begin in July to phase out the use of private out-of-state prison beds for almost 9,000 inmates.
A 1991 federal class-action lawsuit filed by state prison inmates alleged that California's prison mental health care system was unconstitutional. Prior administrations then entered into various consent decrees that set in motion judicial oversight of the prison system.
In the intervening years, California rebuilt its prison mental health care system, investing billions in additional treatment capacity and hiring hundreds of mental health care professionals, Brown said.
Brown said his office has filed federal court documents to end judicial oversight because the mental health care provided to prisoners now exceeds constitutional requirements.
In 2007, the mental-health lawsuit, along with another complaint involving medical care, was assigned to a three-judge court that determined that overcrowding was the primary cause of problems in California's prisons.
Two years later, the court ordered the state to reduce crowding to 137.5 percent of "design capacity." The U.S Supreme Court affirmed that order last year.
Since 2006, the inmate population in the state's prisons has been reduced by more than 43,000 and crowding is down from more than 200 percent to just below 150 percent, Brown said.
More than half of the population decline has taken place since October 1, 2011, as a result of Public Safety Realignment, the governor said.
A state budget watchdog group, however, said the latest filings are an attempt by Brown to dodge the requirements of the court orders.
"If people's lives weren't at stake, claiming that caging one and a half times the people our prisons were built to hold isn't overcrowding would be laughable," according to Diana Zuniga of Californians United for a Responsible Budget. "There are clear, safe ways to bring people back to our communities that would increase public safety and free more funding for social services and the education system the governor claims to value so much."
-City News Service