A panel of three federal judges ordered the state Tuesday to reduce the population of its overcrowded prisons by 40,591 inmates within two years to correct what the panel called "woefully and constitutionally inadequate" health care.
But state Attorney General Jerry Brown said the order will not result in the immediate release of any of the state's 150,354 inmates in 33 adult prisons. He plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the ruling.
In a scathing 184-page order, the three-judge court said there is overwhelming evidence that severe overcrowding is the primary cause of deficient medical and mental health care.
The panel wrote, "The convergence of tough-on-crime policies and an unwillingness to expend the necessary funds to support the population growth has brought California's prisons to the breaking point."
The order requires state officials to reduce the population of California's 33 adult prisons to 137.5 percent of capacity, or from 150,000 inmates to 110,000, within two years.
The prisons were built for 80,000 inmates and currently are filled to 188 percent, or nearly double, the planned capacity.
The panel gave the state 45 days to come up with a plan.
Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ruling was made in two long-running civil rights lawsuits in which inmates claimed that medical and mental health care was so poor it violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The three judges were U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson of San Francisco and Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento, who are presiding over the two lawsuits, and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt.
The decision finalizes a tentative ruling issued by the panel in February. The earlier ruling was the first time a three-judge court had held a trial and issued a prison population reduction order. Other cases had ended in settlements before trial.