SACRAMENTO, California — Gov. Jerry Brown's administration filed notice Monday that it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to again weigh in on the long-running prison population case.
It wants the high court to reject a lower court order requiring California to reduce its prison population by an additional 9,000 inmates by year's end. The Democratic governor had promised to appeal.
The state filed its three-page notice of appeal about a month after federal judges threatened to cite Brown with contempt if he fails to comply with a previous order upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011.
California is required to reduce its prison population to about 110,000 inmates as the best way to improve inmate medical and mental health care but remains about 9,300 inmates over the limit. Brown has said further inmate reductions are expensive, unnecessary and dangerous to the public.
"The Court did not fully or fairly consider the evidence showing that the State's prison health care now exceeds constitutional standards," the state said in its filing.
The administration's detailed legal arguments must be filed by July, when it will formally ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take jurisdiction over the case.
The high court is expected to decide this fall whether it will hear the state's appeal, with arguments this winter and a ruling by next summer if the justices decide to review the lower court order.
"I think the governor's time and the state's resources would be best spent reducing crowding and improving health care rather than filing these meritless appeals," said Don Specter, director of the Prisoner Law Office.
The Berkeley-based inmate-rights group filed the lawsuit over substandard conditions.
The current prison population represents a reduction of 43,000 inmates since 2006, when the state began taking steps to reduce overcrowding. That included sending thousands of inmates to private prisons in other states.
The administration has maintained that the federal judges have failed to properly consider the dramatic drop in the state's prison population or that the state has spent more than $1 billion to build new facilities and to improve mental health and medical care.
"We believe any further court-ordered reduction of the prison population is unnecessary and unsafe," Deborah Hoffman, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement.
California has reduced its prison population by about 25,000 inmates mainly through a two-year-old law that sentences lower-level offenders to local jails instead of state prisons.
Under court order, the administration submitted a plan earlier this month to further reduce the prison population by sending more inmates to firefighting camps, leasing cells at county jails and slowing the return of thousands of inmates who are housed in private prisons in other states. About 400 elderly and disabled inmates also would be paroled, while about 250 others would be let out if the state increases early release credits.
However, the administration's plan has little support in the Legislature. Even if it were completely enacted, it would still fall about 2,300 inmates short of complying with the federal court order.
The judges could waive state laws to reach their population limit or order the state to release enough inmates to reach it.