SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A panel of federal judges refused Wednesday to delay its order that California release nearly 10,000 additional inmates by the end of the year.
The decision rejecting a request by Gov. Jerry Brown pushed the long-running court battle back to the U.S. Supreme Court to consider whether poor medical and mental health care violate the constitutional rights of inmates.
The Brown administration has said it would seek a stay from Justice Anthony Kennedy if the delay was denied. Kennedy oversees appeals from western states.
If Kennedy declines to intervene, the state has said it will begin freeing inmates to comply with the lower court order.
"After this long history of defendants' noncompliance, this court cannot in good conscience grant a stay that would allow defendants to both not satisfy the population reduction order and re-litigate the Supreme Court's emphatic decision in the very case before us," the court said in its 24-page ruling.
Brown and corrections officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The lower court last month instructed the Democratic governor to immediately begin taking steps that include expanding good time credits leading to early release to reduce crowding and improve inmate care.
The three judges again rejected Brown's argument that doing so would threaten public safety.
Other states have used similar measures to reduce their inmate populations, the judges said, and the early release credits were endorsed by experts including Jeffrey Beard before he became California's corrections secretary.