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SAN FRANCISCO � Republicans in California’s state Assembly have launched a Web site blasting a panel of three federal judges who are considering a cap on the state’s overcrowded prison system. The Web site, Keeping Californians Safe, warns that “if three federal judges have their way” 40,000 potentially violent felons, including as many as 7,000 sex offenders, could be released in the state. This claim comes even though the judges have not yet decided whether crowding has reached unconstitutional levels, if inmates may be released, or how many. California, with the largest prison system in the nation, houses 170,000 inmates in prisons designed for 100,000. Two separate legal challenges � which have been combined � assert that the prison health care system is so dysfunctional it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. A special three-judge panel was named to consider whether overcrowding contributes to poor health care delivery. A trial is set for February 2008. Plata v. Schwarzenegger, No. C01-1351TEH, and Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, No. CV S-90-0520LKK. “The Republicans don’t seem to deny there is a constitutional crisis in the prisons because of inadequate health care, or deny that it is dangerous for prisoners as well as officers, and they don’t deny California is suffering the highest recidivism rate in the United States,” said Donald Specter of the Prison Law Office in San Rafael, Calif., and attorney in Plata. “If they do not want the courts to intervene, then they should start becoming more constructive, rather than using political devices to get more votes,” he said. Caucus intervenes The Republican caucus has intervened in the two prison cases, along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, district attorneys, sheriffs and probation officers from around the state. In May, the state passed legislation to spend $7.7 billion to build an addition 53,000 prison beds to ease the problems. “Our new Web site informs Californians about the cap being considered by the federal courts and how their safety could be affected,” according to a prepared statement by Mike Villines, a Republican representing Fresno who is the Assembly minority leader. “We believe the early release of prisoners could put families in danger and we will fight to keep criminals behind bars where they belong,” he said. The Republicans’ Web site pledged to fight population caps and speak out in the court case. As interveners, they will be limited to participation during the remedy phase, if the February 2008 trial results in finding that overcrowding has harmed the quality of health care. The Web site effort has been lead by a former Orange County district attorney and current assemblyman, Todd Spitzer of Orange. Spitzer was not available to comment, according to his staff, nor were other members of the caucus. Caucus press secretary Jennifer McDonald said the figure of 40,000 inmates released is based on a county-by-county estimate from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. McDonald said the judges have indicated a limit of 130,000 inmates could be accommodated to provide constitutional health care facilities � 40,000 less inmates than are currently held. But Specter disputed that claim, saying the judges have not indicated any specific population limits for state prisons. The three-judge panel includes the two trial judges overseeing the health cases, U.S. district judges Thelton Henderson of San Francisco and Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento. They are joined by 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt. The three were selected under a relatively new federal law that requires three judges, rather than one, to impose prison population caps.

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