In a sharply worded order, a panel of three federal judges says Gov. Jerry Brown must release some 10,000 inmates by the end of the year, the latest dramatic turn in the fight over the size of California's prison population.
The 51-page order from the judges demanding a smaller prison population says that state officials have "directly defied this Court's orders" to bring the state's prison population down to around 109,000 inmates.
That's the level set in a 2009 ruling, in a case that alleges the constitutional rights of inmates to protection from cruel and unusual punishment have been violated by prisons that, for years, have been at overcapacity.
In May, state prison officials submitted a plan that would get close to the court's prison population demand, but not all the way there.
Thursday's response from the judges: not good enough.
"This Court has taken care to limit the extent to which its orders tell defendants how to administer their prison system," write the judges in the new order. "Defendants, however, have continually responded to this Court's deference with defiance."
Read the new judges' order here
The order says the state should expand the use of good behavior credits to get inmates out of prisons, and should cull through those remaining in prison after the 2011 realignment changes to find those who are at lower risk of committing new serious crimes.
But the judges also say the state can find other options, as long as the prison population -- which as of last week was about 119,000 -- comes down to close to 109,000 by the end of 2013.
State prison officials say they are still reviewing the court order and didn't immediately comment. But they have already asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. And this latest order is likely to find Brown and his advisers asking the highest Court the same thing... but with a new sense of urgency.