The state has been ordered to reduce the inmate population by nearly 10,000, but Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers are fighting against an early release of inmates, saying it would jeopardize public safety.
The three-judge panel granted the delay until Jan. 27, but they ordered all parties to meet with a separate judge, who will make recommendations to the panel by Oct. 21. The deadline could be extended further if enough progress is being made.
This was just the latest development in a seven-year case centered on inmate medical care. A reduction in the prison population is crucial to help bring medical and mental care behind bars up to Constitutional standards.
The three federal judges are asking the parties to examine the status of Three Strikes inmates, elderly and infirm prisoners, those being held on immigration violations, juveniles and those considered low-risk. The judges have said previously they believe the state can release some of those prisoners before their full sentences have been served without endangering public safety.
California already has lowered its prison population by about 40,000 inmates to comply with the court's order but must reduce it even further to the roughly 110,000 inmates the court determined is necessary to improve medical conditions.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is pushing for a plan to spend $200 million a year on rehabilitation and counseling programs to prevent criminals from re-offending and coming back to crowd the cells.
But a report by the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office found that Steinberg's plan would take too long to see any results.
In a statement, he said the deadline extension represents an opportunity to change the dynamics of California's prison system.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.