State submits prison reduction plan

LOS ANGELES The plan will release thousands of prisoners, but it's still not what the judges wanted. This is proving to be a political hot potato. Some worry it will impact public safety, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he has no choice.

Judges have ordered the state to reduce prison overcrowding and there is no money.

Over the next two years, the plan likely will reduce the prison population by about 23,000, which is nowhere near as much as the judges demanded. The governor says the current prison system is way too expensive.

"It is inexcusable that we are spending in this state more money in prisons, than on higher education," says the governor.

The three-judge panel ordered the state to reduce the number of inmates in the 33 adult prisons by roughly a quarter, from 150,000 to 110,000, as a way improve medical and mental health care. The governor is slashing $1.2 billion, and as a result, the Department of Corrections will lay off about 900 corrections workers.

"We think that we've done in our plan we are submitting today everything that we can legally do under state law that is both consistent with good practice for our prison system, our correctional system, and is consistent with safety on the streets," says Matthew Cate, of the State Department of Corrections.

The overcrowding-relief plan will likely include building more prisons, some parole reform the Legislature passed last week and the use of executive authority to commute the sentences of illegal immigrant prisoners, who will then be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The fear is the federal judges will find the plan inadequate, which is a possibility considering the prison overcrowding lawsuit has already dragged on for years without resolution.

"The key thing is to keep our streets safe and to lower the costs in our prisons. That's our bottom line and to do it in the right way and to do it in a safe way," says Gov. Schwarzenegger.

If the judges don't like the governor's plan, they could hold state officials in contempt. The judges could also ask inmates' attorneys to present their own plan to reduce overcrowding and then order the state to implement it.

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