SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California reached a court-ordered target to reduce the number of inmates in its crowded prisons on Thursday, more than a year ahead of the deadline set by federal judges.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation had until February 2016 to reduce the population of the state's 34 adult prisons to 137.5 percent of their design capacity. The state now has an institutional population of 113,463 inmates, slightly below the judges' target.
That is down from an all-time high of 162,804 inmates in 2006, when the prisons held more than twice as many inmates as they were designed to house. Some inmates slept in bunks stacked three high in gymnasiums, dayrooms and other public areas.
"We're clearly making progress, but much work remains," department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said in an email.
The challenge now is to keep the population below the level established in court orders that the U.S. Supreme Court has backed, said Don Specter, director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office.
"Wow. Well, that's quite a milestone," said Specter, one of the attorneys who sued to force the state to reduce the inmate population to improve conditions for inmates.
He noted that the prison population has been projected to gradually rise, though that was before voters approved Proposition 47 in November. That ballot measure lowers the penalties for certain drug and property crimes and has led to the release of more than 2,000 inmates so far. The department projects more than 3,200 additional inmates could be released.
The state also met the target in part by keeping 8,800 inmates in private prisons in other states, but it wants to eventually return them to California.
"They're still having trouble running the prisons in a lawful way at this level, and it's costing the public a lot of money to run the prisons at this level," Specter said. The population could be further reduced without affecting public safety, he said.
But state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said the state already is suffering the effects of a major criminal justice realignment backed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 that has led to tens of thousands of lower-level offenders being kept in county jails instead of state prisons.
"This threshold has been met at the expense of our families' safety and security," Nielsen said in a statement.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
In a ceremony at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park, people paid homage to those who lost their lives in service to our great nation.
A soldier from the San Diego area died as a result of a "non-combat related" incident in Kosovo, the Department of Defense said Friday.
Authorities Friday released the name of a lawman who opened fire on an assault suspect who allegedly charged him with a machete over his head in a busy intersection near Grossmont Center mall.
Law enforcement agencies across San Diego County are planning to crack down on drunken driving over the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
A two vehicle crash left one person critically injured Friday in Emerald Hills, according to authorities.
Some of the smartest high school students in San Diego County will be in Atlanta this weekend competing in the National Quiz Bowl Championship.
Californians Aware, a statewide group that advocates for government transparency, Friday expressed concern over a soon-to-take- effect San Diego Unified School District policy to delete most emails after one year.
Millions of Southern Californians will be taking to the roads and airways Friday as the Memorial Day travel crunch goes into high gear, and the large crowds will likely test the patience of motorists and airline passengers.