Posted By: Bob Egelko | Sep 25 at 6:44 pm

When a federal court gave California another four weeks to reduce its prison population, Gov. Jerry Brown was furious — not because of the extension, but because the court prohibited the state from transferring inmates to out-of-state private prisons in the meantime.

“This order, like the court’s other recent actions, disregards the law and the role of the judiciary,” the Brown administration’s lawyers told the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in a plea to overturn the lower-court order and lift the deadline.

California has nearly 120,000 inmates in its 33 prisons. The three-judge federal court has ordered the state to lower that number to 110,000, or 137.5 percent of designed capacity, to ease overcrowding that caused inmate health care to violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court upheld that order in 2011, but Brown wants it overturned, saying the state has already reduced the prison population by more than 20,000 by sentencing low-level felons to county jails and now has an exemplary health care system.

As an alternative, Brown has asked the three-judge court for a three-year extension of its Dec. 31 population-reduction deadline. If the court refuses, newly signed legislation allows the state to reduce the inmate population by transferring prisoners to leased county jail cells and private prisons, most of them outside California, at a first-year cost of $315 million.

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