U.S. judges order review of California prison crowding
Saying Schwarzenegger's plans fall short,
they clear the way for a cap on inmate
By Nancy Vogel
Times Staff Writer
July 24, 2007
SACRAMENTO — Federal judges seeking to improve prison medical care called the
state's latest efforts insufficient Monday and ordered creation of a three-judge panel to
consider capping California's inmate population.
The move — the first for a state prison system — has the potential to prompt early
release of inmates. Experts and elected officials, however, said that less-drastic
measures might appease federal courts and that releases, if necessary, could be made in
ways that minimize any threat to the public.
The rulings are an escalation of federal intervention in California's prisons, which now
house nearly 173,000 inmates, 17,000 of them in gymnasiums, day rooms, classrooms
and other areas not designed as dormitories. Prompted by class-action lawsuits on behalf
of inmates, federal courts have declared the level of medical and mental health care in
the prison system unconstitutional and turned over healthcare operations to a court-
Inmates' attorneys sued to request a population cap in November 2006, five weeks after
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the prisons. The lawyers
suggested that instead of releasing thousands of prisoners, state officials could
use home detention, electronic monitoring or residential drug treatment
programs to divert low-risk convicts and parole violators from prison.