Sacramento's prison deal

Before the courts lift a deadline on overcrowding, California must show it's serious about reform.

At the heart of the state's latest proposal to comply with a federal court order to reduce the prison population is a plea, yet again, for more time. If the judges say no and stick with their Dec. 31 deadline by which the state must release or find alternative housing for about 9,600 inmates, the deal brokered Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly leaders on the one side and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on the other will revert to the foolish plan that Brown proposed last month: Spend down the state's hard-won reserve fund by $715 million over the next two years and throw it down what the governor himself has called "the rathole of incarceration" by expanding the prison system with leased public and private cells for excess prisoners.

The end-of-year compliance date already represents a six-month reprieve from the original June deadline. The three-judge panel with jurisdiction over the case has rejected pleas for additional stays and has expressed, in barely disguised anger, its impatience with the state's resistance.

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