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A federal judge overseeing litigation concerning the treatment of California’s inmates suggested Friday that the state corrections department consider using private prisons as “additional possible real estate” to spread out the population amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Civil rights lawyers are seeking an early release of inmates or alternative housing to protect about 50,000 inmates who have been identified as having medical vulnerabilities that could put them at risk of severe illness or death if they get COVID-19.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, speaking via a court phone hearing, said he knew from his experience with litigation over medical care and overcrowding at prisons that the state used to use private correctional facilities to comply with caps on state prison populations. He also noted that because of a reduction in the prison population the state has essentially discontinued the use of private correctional facilities.

Tigar noted that while he has “a lot of concerns about private correctional facilities,” he said they are additional possible real estate that is “something worth considering.”

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