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Calif. gets extension on prisoner cap

SACRAMENTO — Federal judges on Monday gave California two more years to meet a court-ordered prison population cap, the latest step in a lawsuit aimed at improving inmate medical care.

In doing so, the judges said they would appoint a compliance officer who will release inmates early if the state fails to meet interim benchmarks or the final goal.

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The order from the three-judge panel delayed an April deadline to reduce the prison population to about 112,000 inmates.

California remains more than 5,000 inmates over a limit set by the courts, even though the state has built more prison space.

‘‘It is even more important now for defendants to take effective action that will provide a long-term solution to prison overcrowding,’’ the judges said in an opinion scolding the state.

The judges said the state has failed to implement any of the measures approved by the panel and the Supreme Court that were intended to safely reduce the prison population and alleviate unconstitutional conditions involving medical and mental health care.

The judges said the delays have cost taxpayers money while causing inmates to needlessly suffer.

However, immediately enforcing the population cap would simply prompt the state to move thousands more inmates to private prisons in other states without solving the long-term crowding problem, the judges said.

Given that choice, they adopted a proposal outlined by Governor Jerry Brown’s administration that it can reach the population cap by the end of February 2016 through a series of steps.

Those steps include expanding a Stockton medical facility to house about 1,100 mentally ill inmates and freeing more than 2,000 inmates who are elderly or medically incapacitated.

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