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Inmates at California's Chino State Prison in December 2010.
Gov. Jerry Brown and the four legislative leaders reached a compromise Monday on reducing the state's prison population, agreeing to ask a panel of federal judges to extend the end-of-the-year deadline on releasing thousands of inmates.
The deal relies on the state persuading three federal judges to give California time to let rehabilitation programs work rather than spending $315 million to lease cells in private prisons and available county jails.
The leaders agreed that if the judges don't extend the deadline, the state will fall back on Brown's plan to lease beds.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, had opposed Brown's plan and wanted to ask the judges to delay the deadline for three years while the state gave counties $200 million annually to send fewer criminals to state prisons.
The state will argue that it would be better for California to spend a portion of the money on drug, mental health and other rehabilitation programs.
The agreement resolves an impasse as lawmakers race toward the end of the legislative session this week.
The three-judge panel ordered the state to lower its prison population by about 9,600 inmates by year's end. Brown is appealing that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the justices declined to delay the deadline.
Without an alternative, the judges had threatened to order the state to give thousands of inmates good time credits, which would lead to their early release. They have repeatedly threatened to hold Brown in contempt if the state does not meet the deadline to reduce the prison population to about 110,000 inmates.