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California will resume sending an estimated 8,000 prisoners to other states next month after an appeals court ruled that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can do so while he challenges a prior ruling that halted the transfers.

Schwarzenegger praised the decision by the Third District Appellate Court, which was filed late last week and announced Monday, saying it would let the state take a critical step toward reducing prison overcrowding. Critics, however, warned that shipping inmates against their will could be dangerous for guards, prisoners and the public.

For the governor, the decision couldn't have come soon enough. Three judges have scheduled separate hearings next month to consider appointing a panel that could cap the state's inmate population—which could potentially order the release of thousands of prisoners. The state now has 172,000 prisoners living in space designed for fewer than 100,000.

Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying the transfers will help California avoid the court-ordered release of dangerous felons and even increase safety for overburdened guards.

"Out of state transfers will improve the safety of California's institutions for our correctional officers and staff as well as the inmates, and will provide much needed space for rehabilitation programs," Schwarzenegger said. "Transferring of inmates out of state is a critical component of the state's overall plan to relieve overcrowding."

The decision follows the Legislature's approval in April of a $7.8 billion plan also designed to help stave off a federal takeover. The plan calls for heavy state borrowing to pay for adding 53,000 new beds, as well as boosting education, job training and other rehabilitation programs. The plan also authorizes the governor to continue transferring inmates out of state until 2011 to relieve overcrowding.

Lance Corcoran, spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which sued the state over the transfers and prevailed in a Sacramento County Superior Court in February, said the transfers will expose guards to serious dangers.

He pointed to a riot in an Indiana prison last month as evidence. That riot, involving about 500 inmates, apparently began after prisoners recently transferred from Arizona refused to return to their living quarters.

"Inmates who are forced to leave the jurisdictions in which their families have the opportunity to visit them creates a very volatile situation that's unsafe for the inmates, unsafe for the guards, and unsafe for the public," Corcoran said.

California transferred 353 inmates out of state before Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Gail Ohanesian ruled in February that the transfers appeared to violate the state's emergency act and a provision in the state constitution.

Those inmates are in Tennessee and Arizona.

According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, inmates sent in June could go to facilities in Tallahatchie, Mississippi or near Oklahoma City.

Corrections plans to send 300 in June and ramp up shipments of 400 to 500 inmates a month by the fall.

Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Prison Construction and Operations, said he plans to hold hearings next month on the safety of the transfers.

"I have some concerns about Corrections being able to do this without officer injuries."

But Spitzer said Monday's ruling was great news because out-of-state transfers are the only way to prevent early releases.


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