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Lawmakers to Tackle Overcrowded Prison Problem

— It’s back to work today for California lawmakers who’ve been on summer recess. They’ve got some big challenges ahead, including the state’s overcrowded prisons.

While lawmakers were away, a panel of federal judges ruled that the state’s prisons are overcrowded. They’ve given the state 45 days to come up with a plan to reduce the population by 40,000 inmates. Matthew Cate is secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. After the ruling, Cate said the state plans to appeal.

“We just don’t agree that the federal courts should be ordering these steps," said Cate. "We think that lawmakers and the governor along with our law enforcement stakeholders, can come up with a plan that’s smart on crime and can deal with the overcrowding problem safely.”

Cate said he’s working with Governor Schwarzenegger on a plan to reduce the inmate population by 27,000 inmates to save the state a billion dollars. He says they’re considering alternative sentencing and rehab programs to do so.

“Those are the kinds of things that sound good on paper," said Natasha Minsker. She’s a prisoner advocate with the ACLU of Northern California and she’s critical of the state’s plans.

“They make a good sound byte for the CDCR," she said, "but they’re not going to reduce the population in the way we need and they’re not going to result in real savings.”

Minsker said a better way to address overcrowded prisons is for the state to stop putting drug offenders and non-violent offenders behind bars and offer them treatment instead.

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