While he didn't rule on the issue, Circuit Judge William Shashy told state lawyers to ask the Legislature to expedite passage of a bill that would reduce the overcrowding, which has plagued the state prison system.
As of Dec. 30, there were at least 794 state inmates -- criminals sentenced to more than a year of incarceration -- who had not been transferred from county jails to prisons within 30 days as required by court order.
"We as a state do not have the ability to comply with the law," said Donal Campbell, commissioner for the Department of Corrections. "It's frustrating. There's been some improvements, but we have many years to go before we get to where it needs to be."
Lawyers for county commissions and sheriffs, however, argued that the department's budget has increased by 47 percent, or $117 million, since 2001. They also argued that by not complying with the court order, the state is redirecting overcrowding problems to county jails without offering financial relief.
Ken Webb, an attorney representing the counties and sheriffs, said the state began violating the 2002 court order in December of 2004, and the noncompliance has gotten worse ever since.
"We haven't been able to make any headway," he said.
Webb said the judge could either throw Campbell in jail until he complies with the order, or give the county sheriffs the authority to transport inmates to state prisons after 30 days.