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California seeks prison solution

19 September 09 08:48 GMT

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has submitted a plan to relieve prison overcrowding - but it falls short of judges' demands.

A federal court ordered California to reduce its prison population by 40,000 within two years and set a deadline of 18 September for it to present a plan.

Under the governor's plan, the number of inmates would fall by 18,000 over two years, and 35,000 over five years.

This would be done through transfers and changes to sentencing guidelines.

If the state legislature approved changes to indictment guidelines for crimes such as burglary and on at-home monitoring for low-risk offenders these numbers would rise to 23,000 in two years and 47,000 in five years.

"We think we have done... everything we can legally do under state law that is both consistent with good practice for prison systems and is consistent with good public safety on the streets," Corrections Secretary Matthew Cate told journalists.

California has 150,000 people behind bars, in prisons built for barely half that.

A three-judge panel ruled in August that inmates were housed in dangerously overcrowded conditions and ordered the 40,000 reduction.

As the state's proposals fall short of the judges' demands, Mr Schwarzenegger could in theory be held in contempt of court.

California authorities, meanwhile, have argued that the courts are overstepping their authority and should not interfere in state prison policy.

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