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Governor to submit plan to reduce prison crowding

November 12, 2009 |  5:47 pm

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tonight will give federal judges a road map to reducing state prison overcrowding that involves waiving some state laws so sentencing regulations can be changed and new private prisons built.

But the governor also will disavow those solutions as illegal, said Oscar Hidalgo, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

An initial plan that Schwarzenegger submitted was rejected three weeks ago by the three judges, who threatened him with contempt of court for failing to meet their demand for a proposal to reduce the inmate population by 40,000 prisoners over two years.
With his new proposal, the governor appears to be trying to avoid open defiance of the judges without giving the impression that he is contradicting his opposition to their efforts in an appeal now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The new plan, which the governor says would reduce the prison population by 42,000 by December 2011, will heed the judges’ Oct. 21 order to identify state laws that they would need to suspend to meet their goal.

Yet Schwarzenegger also is expected to tell the judges he does not believe it would be legal for them to waive those laws. He contends that it is improper for the federal courts to intrude into the state’s affairs.

U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson and Lawrence Karlton and U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt are overseeing two long-running inmate lawsuits on medical and mental health care for inmates. They have ruled that overcrowding has led to care so poor that it violates the Constitution, and in August they ordered Schwarzenegger to provide a blueprint for easing the crowding.

Hidalgo said the state believes the new plan will meet the judges’ requirements and the governor will attempt to win passage of some provisions of his plan in the Legislature, so the judges will not have to suspend any state laws.

—Michael Rothfeld in Sacramento