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Judge Rules California Inmate Transfers Are Illegal

A state judge ruled Tuesday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to transfer inmates out of state to relieve severe prison overcrowding is illegal.

A state judge ruled Tuesday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to transfer inmates out of state to relieve severe prison overcrowding is illegal.

 The governor said he would immediately appeal, citing the potential for some convicts to be released early.

"Today's disappointing ruling is a threat to public safety," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "I will not release dangerous criminals to relieve overcrowding. The transfer of inmates is imperative to relieve the pressure on our overburdened prison system."

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Schwarzenegger signed an emergency declaration in October ordering the corrections department to send thousands of inmates to private prisons in other states. Two employee unions, including the one representing guards, filed a lawsuit saying the declaration violated state law.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian agreed with the unions and invalidated California's contracts with the other states.

"Prison overcrowding in California is a crisis creating conditions of extreme peril," Ohanesian wrote in her five-page order. Nonetheless, "this is not the type of circumstance generally covered by the Emergency Services Act."

The act is intended to let the state step in when local governments are overwhelmed and cannot be used to respond to problems that originated at the state level, the judge said.

"The control of state prisons is exclusively within the purview of state government and not local government," Ohanesian said in her ruling. "The intent of the Emergency Services Act is not to give the governor extraordinary powers to act without legislative approval in matters such as this that are ordinarily and entirely within the control of the state government."

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The California Correctional Peace Officers Association and the Service Employees International Union had challenged Schwarzenegger's prisoner transfers for violating the emergency act and a provision in the state Constitution. That provision prohibits using private companies for jobs usually performed by state workers.

The judge agreed with the unions on that point, as well.