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Brown Mystified At Continuing Prison Legal Case

California Governor Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference at the Port of Oakland on July 9, 2012 in Oakland, California.
Justin Sullivan
California Governor Jerry Brown speaks during a news conference at the Port of Oakland on July 9, 2012 in Oakland, California.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday defended his combative approach to the federal court case over California's prison system by saying the state has undergone an "incredible transformation" since the courts took over the inmate health care system.

The state filed its plan last week to further reduce the prison population by another 7,000 inmates, but that plan still falls 2,300 inmates short of the court-mandated target.

Federal judges have said Brown could be held in contempt if his administration does not comply with its orders. He has vowed to appeal their inmate-reduction target because he says inmate medical care meets constitutional standards.


The governor said California has spent billions on prison construction and hiring medical staff in recent years, while a court-appointed federal receiver has been running the health care system. The state used to spend about $7,000 per inmate on annual health care but now spends about $15,000 per inmate.

"We have an incredible transformation, and for some reason people say, 'Gee, nothing happened,'" Brown said after a peace officers' memorial ceremony near the Capitol.

He added, "I find it rather mystifying why we're in this predicament."

His comments to The Associated Press were his first on the topic since his administration filed its inmate-reduction plan last week. The governor said he is presenting his case in a respectful way but also said the state has a right to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the court order, the state must reduce the population in its 33 adult prisons to about 110,000 inmates by year's end to improve the treatment of sick and mentally ill inmates. The courts previously ruled that inmate medical and mental health care was so poor that it violated constitutional standards for cruel and unusual punishment, and that prison overcrowding was the leading cause.


If the governor's appeal does reach the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, its outcome is far from certain. In May 2011, the high court sided with the federal judges' decision to reduce the prison population.

Brown said he will comply with the high court's decision even if that means cutting other programs to increase prison spending.

"If the Supreme Court says, 'No, you have to spend $20,000 a prisoner,' well, that's what we'll do," he said. "We'll cut whatever we have to cut and we'll just spend more and more money. But I believe that to go from $7,000 to $15,000 to get to all the things we've done should be looked at fairly and honestly."