Updated at: 10/21/2013 7:35 PM
By DON THOMPSON
(AP) SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Federal judges on Monday gave California an additional month to reduce its prison population, as negotiations continue over a longer-term delay.
The judges said in a one-paragraph order, without comment, that a court-appointed mediator needs more time to seek agreement on how the state should reduce inmate crowding.
The delay could signal that the judges see some progress in talks orchestrated by state Appellate Judge Peter Siggins, based on his confidential report and recommendations to the court.
It came a week after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal of a lower court’s order requiring California to reduce crowding to improve conditions for sick and mentally ill inmates.
However, Michael Bien, an attorney representing inmates, said that to his knowledge there have been no meetings with Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration and none were scheduled.
"Justice Siggins is a very experienced mediator and we assume that he sees a reason to continue the process. Based on that, we’re hopeful," Bien said.
State officials were pleased with the extension and will work with the court, as well as law enforcement and local governments, to keep improving the criminal justice system, said Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the administration and state corrections department.
Brown and state lawmakers want a three-year delay to give proposed rehabilitation programs time to work. Under a new state law, the alternative is to spend $315 million this fiscal year to house thousands of inmates in private prisons and county jails.
If the judges grant the delay, part of the money that would have gone to lease cells would instead go to fund programs designed to keep criminals out of prisons.
Under the court order, the state must reduce the population of its major prisons to about 110,000 inmates by the end of February. It has taken steps to comply but still is about 4,400 inmates above the population cap set by the courts.
Meanwhile, a state Assembly committee on Monday had the first of a planned series of hearings on problems with the state prisons system that led to the judges’ orders.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)