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Schwarzenegger asks for more time for a plan to cut prison overcrowding

California has until Sept. 18 to reduce its number of inmates. The governor says he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if his request isn't granted by a panel of federal judges.

September 02, 2009|Michael Rothfeld and Patrick McGreevy

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday asked a panel of federal judges to delay their order that the state produce a plan to reduce prison crowding, saying he would take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if they did not grant the request.

In the motion filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the governor said the order should be delayed pending an appeal to be filed Thursday in the Supreme Court, arguing that the state would probably win in the nation's high court.

The order was issued Aug. 4 by judges overseeing two lawsuits filed by inmates complaining of inadequate medical and mental health treatment. The judges told the state to have a plan by Sept. 18 to reduce the inmates in state prisons by 40,000 over two years.

The governor backs a plan recently approved by the state Senate to reduce the inmate population by nearly the same number. That plan included home detention for some inmates, reduced parole supervision for low-level offenders and some sentencing reductions.

The Assembly passed a scaled-down version Monday. Its revisions would need Senate approval before going to Schwarzenegger, and so far there is no sign of compromise between the two houses.

In public, Schwarzenegger has said the state must deal with overcrowding because the prison system is "collapsing under its own weight" and contended his plan would not harm public safety.

But in the motion filed Tuesday, the governor argued that reducing the prison population as the judges have ordered would likely cause an increase in crime and strain local resources.

A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman, Rachel Cameron, said in a statement that the governor's plan is "a responsible policy," while "the court's order could force the state to release tens of thousands of prisoners without any supervision, which would have an enormous impact on public safety."

The judges, however, have indicated that they would employ measures similar to those Schwarzenegger advocates.

In apparent fallout from the dispute over the prisons legislation, Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a measure aimed at reducing crowding in L.A. County jails through home detention. Sheriff's deputies can already put misdemeanor offenders on house arrest, but the bill, AB 1369, pushed by Sheriff Lee Baca, would allow counties to impose home detention for low-level felons.

The measure had earlier been approved in both houses, with support from Republicans and Assembly Democrats who had opposed allowing the state to use similar techniques to cut prison spending.

On Tuesday, prompted by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), the Senate voted to reconsider the measure later. She said the state should be given the same authority as counties.

Lawmakers approved other bills involving public safety:

* AB 504 would provide sensitivity training so police officers do not improperly arrest members of the Sikh faith for carrying a kirpan, a religious article resembling a dagger. The measure has passed the Assembly.

* The Assembly approved SB 557, which would allow courts to seize houses and cars used in human trafficking. It would also add civil penalties of up to $25,000 for those convicted of trafficking. The bill has passed the Senate.

Both proposals need minor amendments before they go to the governor.

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michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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