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SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb 10 (Reuters) - California won two additional years to reduce overcrowding in its massive prison system under an order issued on Monday by a panel of federal judges, in the latest twist in a decades-long dispute over prison conditions and medical care for inmates.
The court-appointed panel, which oversees ongoing prison crowding cases in California, said it was granting the extension, to February 2016, because the state had promised to develop comprehensive reforms to its prison system, which currently houses about 120,000 inmates in facilities designed to hold about 80,000.
California prisons have been in the national spotlight for the past year as officials wrestled with crowding and concerns about the use of long-term solitary confinement for prisoners with suspected gang ties, which led to a hunger strike last year.
The state has been under court orders to reduce inmate numbers since 2009, when the same panel ordered it to relieve overcrowding that several courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have said was to blame for inadequate medical and mental-health care.
Under the order, the state must reduce the prison population to no more than 137.5 percent of capacity, or roughly 110,000 inmates.
The state must also implement a number of reforms, including establishing a system of credits for good behavior, changing the parole system and developing alternative incarceration proposals for women inmates.
The state must submit monthly reports on its progress in reducing crowding. To ensure the reforms are implemented according to a timeline set out in the order, the judges said they were appointing a compliance officer to oversee the process.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)
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