A federal magistrate has rejected an attempt by the state to keep certain documents secret as courts decide whether to cap California’s overcrowded prison population. California’s 33 adult prisons were designed for roughly 100,000 inmates but currently hold 159,000. Inmate advocacy groups say the crowding has led to numerous problems, including and not limited to neglectful health care and poor mental health treatment.
A special panel of three federal judges had already set a June 27th date to convene a hearing to decide whether to go ahead with a November trial on a set of lawsuits that have been consolidated. Inmate advocacy groups that brought the lawsuits opposed the administration’s request, and federal Magistrate Judge John Moulds in Sacramento issued a ruling Friday generally siding with the plaintiffs and limiting the administration’s request.
In pretrial motions, the state sought to prohibit public disclosure of certain documents classified as sensitive communications or part of internal deliberations. The Associated Press filed written opposition with the court. This written statement suggests the administration’s motion was too broad and had the potential to improperly keep some records from the public.
The administration sought to, for example, define sensitive communications as those that include “budget change proposals for government agencies that are not defendants in this proceeding.”
Judge Moulds said only documents that clearly would jeopardize prison security if they were made public should remain secret. He also ruled that any personal information on inmates and state employees would be redacted. This seems like an even-handed distribution of secrecy when appropriate, as defined by the judge. The administration can and likely will appeal Moulds’ decision to the three-judge panel, according to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spokesperson. They are currently reviewing the decision.
The ruling comes as court-appointed mediators attempt to negotiate a settlement. Under the proposed settlement, 27,000 inmates would be released before serving their full sentences and a population cap would be set.
According to state Sen. George Runner, Republican state lawmaker who have intervened in the lawsuit will reject any settlement that includes a prison cap formula. In an almost predicatable fashion, he said Republicans agree that crowding needs to be reduced but believe it can be done by adding nearly 38,000 new prison and county jail cells through a building program approved by the Legislature last year. Spending more money on jailing the people than treating them, since much of the overcrowding comes from drug-offenders.
In addition, a federal receiver is seeking $7 billion in state money to add 10,000 hospital and mental health beds whose funding had been cut by Reagan administration.