Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration is exploring a settlement of two lawsuits that would require California to dramatically reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prisons — and limit the Legislature’s influence on the issue, reports the Los Angeles Times. The talks are not formally tied to Schwarzenegger’s pending proposal to save money by releasing tens of thousands of low-risk prisoners. The plan, which reverses the position he has taken opposing the early release of inmates, is expected to die in the Legislature, where it would need approval from Republicans who adamantly oppose it. Still, it could become the basis for a negotiated settlement, prisoners’ lawyers said.
The proposal is “a step in the right direction,” said Donald Specter of Prison Law Office, an attorneys for inmates His group is asking a panel of three federal judges to cap the state’s prison population. “We would rather settle this case and have the state do this than have the court do it,” Specter said. Even if lawmakers reject his proposal, Schwarzenegger could implement the inmate releases in a consent decree, that the judges would approve. That would put pressure on legislators to make the appropriate changes to state law.