(Adds quote from California corrections officials, background)
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, Sept 24 (Reuters) - California on Tuesday won an extra four weeks to reduce overcrowding in its prisons, pushing the deadline to late January but far short of the state's request to postpone the decision until 2016.
The three-member panel of federal appellate judges extended a deadline from Dec. 31 to Jan. 27, 2014, to reduce the prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity either by finding new beds or releasing inmates who pose the lowest risk to society.
The panel ordered all parties in the case to meet next month with another judge who would report back on their progress in complying with the orders. The state holds 120,000 prisoners in 34 facilities, and needs to reduce the prison population by about 8,000 to be in compliance.
Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has criticized the order, which stems from years of lawsuits over prison conditions, as expensive and dangerous. But the judges have refused to budge, threatening to hold Brown personally in contempt if he does not comply.
Brown and state legislative leaders reached a deal earlier this month to address the overcrowding problems in part by spending up to $400 million on rehabilitation efforts, including mental health services for inmates.
A spokesman for Brown on Tuesday referred calls seeking comment on the ruling to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
"The state is reviewing the order," a CDCR spokeswoman said. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)