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Inmates could walk on appeal

57,000 state prisoners may be released if state loses fight over inmate rights

Posted: February 25, 2009 12:58 a.m.
Updated: February 25, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Sheriff's officials are tight-lipped about plans to deal with the crush of inmates who could be dumped on the streets if the state loses an appeal in a federal inmates' rights case.

"The case is on appeal so we don't know what will happen," said Steve Whitmore, Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown plans to appeal a federal court decision to release more than 57,000 inmates from state prisons over the next two years, Brown said in a press release.

A three-judge panel in the United States District Court in San Francisco ruled that overcrowding inside California state prisons constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawsuit brought by a group of inmates, proposed the state spend $8 billion on prison renovations, according an Brown's statement.

The proposed renovations included seven new prison health care facilities, containing 10,000 new beds for prisoners, yoga rooms, regulation-sized basketball courts, electronic bingo boards, bleachers and landscaped courtyards for reflection and meditation, according to the attorney general's statement.

Brown's office issued a statement condemning the federal judges decision and claimed the decision represents an unconstitutional intrusion by the federal government.

Without a U.S. Supreme Court reprieve, California will have to free roughly one-third of its prison inmates in a few years, and how that can be done safely is still hotly debated.

"The state has a number of options, including reform of the earned credit and parole systems, that would serve to reduce the population ... without adversely affecting public safety," the judges wrote in the decision.

The threat of recidivism by released inmates grabbed the attention of the sheriff's department, which is hatching a plan to deal with the inmates if they hit the streets.

The department declined to give details on the plan.

There is no set date for when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case, said Scott Gerber, attorney general spokesman.


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