The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that California bears responsibility for nearly 2,000 disabled parolees housed in county jails.
The decision could leave state taxpayers liable for problems at some of the jails, said Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The high court did not comment as it declined to consider Gov. Jerry Brown's appeal of a January 2012 decision by U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland.
She ruled that state prison officials failed to monitor and protect former inmates who were returned to county jails instead of state prisons for parole violations under a now 3-year-old state law.
That law keeps most parole violators and lower-level offenders in county jails instead of state prisons in response to federal court orders requiring the state to reduce the prison population.
The ruling in the parolee case was upheld last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite objections by the state.
"We believe that the lower court impinged upon a state's right to delegate responsibilities to local governments," Callison said.
The state penal code says parole violators in county jails are under counties' jurisdiction, he said, but "the federal court decided that didn't matter, that they were still ultimately state parolees."
That could make the state financially responsible for providing jailed parolees with the accommodations to which they are entitled under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, he said.