By Denny Walsh and Torey Van Oot
dwalsh@sacbee.com
Published: Saturday, May. 4, 2013 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Saturday, May. 4, 2013 – 12:41 am

A plan for inmate population reduction in California’s prisons that was submitted Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown and his corrections department to three federal judges may be dead on arrival.

Nearly the whole plan depends on the Legislature’s approval, and a number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Friday they see serious flaws in it.

Even if the required appropriations and changes in the law were made, it would take some months to get the measures up and running.

In the document containing the plan, it is made clear that Brown is not going to spend any of his political capital getting the Legislature to act.

The plan was submitted to the accompaniment of loud protest by Brown and Corrections Department Secretary Jeff Beard, and only because the three judges threatened them with severe discipline if they refused.

The 46-page document is labeled the response to the court’s order to produce a plan, but its overarching message is that the three judges are just plain wrong to keep pushing for a further cut in population. It contends that the underlying problem of abysmal inmate health care – which the judges found in 2009 is caused by overcrowding – has been solved.

The judges have not given “full or fair consideration to the substantial evidence … showing the quality health care system that now exists,” the document says. Consequently, the state is “preparing an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.”

The high court heard the state’s appeal of the 2009 reduction order, but sided with the three judges in 2011.

The three judges agree much progress has been made since they decided after a 2008-09 non-jury trial that California’s prison health care was so bad as to be unconstitutional. But they believe the problem still is unsolved, based on evidence presented by inmates’ lawyers and reports from court-appointed overseers.

All but one of the measures discussed in the plan “would require the Legislature’s approval to implement,” Thursday’s document emphasizes. “The court’s ‘best efforts’ directive certainly cannot mean that the governor must advocate for the Legislature to pass measures that would jeopardize public safety or the population reductions achieved under realignment.”

The document strongly defends Brown’s realignment program, which shifted responsibility for incarceration and parole of low-risk offenders to counties, but says further realignment would burden “already strained counties.”

In blunt but polished remarks at a news conference Friday, Beard told reporters the plan was submitted “to avoid contempt of court charges … but we are doing so under protest.”

The court – U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of Sacramento, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles, and U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson of San Francisco – wants the population of the state’s 33 adult prisons reduced to 137.5 percent of design capacity by Dec. 31.

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