Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has until Friday to submit a prison population reduction plan to a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a terse two-sentence order, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an attempt at delay.
Three years ago, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in the prisons. Overcrowding, he said, "causes harm to people and property, leads to inmate unrest and misconduct, reduces or eliminates programs, and increases recidivism as shown within this state and in others."
He has presented countless proposals, backed by expert testimony, to reduce prison population. But he has been rebuffed time and again by legislators. So the three-judge panel finally stepped in, establishing a prison population cap on Aug. 4.
Prisons designed for 80,000 prisoners hold more than 148,000 today. The cap, set at 137.5 percent of design capacity, would bring the population to 110,000 within two years.
The Legislature could have passed a feasible and timely proposal to reduce prison population before leaving town last Friday. Instead, driven by a cowering Assembly, the package finally sent to the governor's desk was watered down.
The final bill would reduce the prison population by 7,500. While that helps, it does not come close to the 38,000 needed over two years.
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