SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California’s extraordinary rate of prison homicides is rekindling a debate over whether the state needs to further reduce its prison population to ensure inmates’ safety.

Experts say trimming the inmate population is also the best hope for protecting sex offenders.

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The recommendations respond to an Associated Press report that the state’s long-term inmate homicide rate is twice the national average. Sex offenders make up a disproportionate share of those killed.

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California’s high inmate suicide rate is often cited as evidence of problems with crowded facilities and poor treatment of inmates, while its homicide rate previously received little attention. The state already reduced its inmate population under an ongoing federal order.

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Some other states operate prisons nearly as large as those in California with prison homicide rates below the national average.