Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing the early release of more than 20,000 low-risk prison inmates as a way to save money amid a worsening budget crisis.

The Sacramento Bee reported on its Web site Thursday that the governor will ask California lawmakers to authorize the release of certain non-serious, nonviolent offenders. The prisoners would have less than 20 months to go on their terms.

Sex offenders would not be eligible for release under the proposal.

The plan would cut the prison population by 22,159 inmates and save the state $256 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, the Bee reported. Savings could reach $780 million through 2010.

The proposal also calls for eliminating more than 4,000 prison jobs, most of which would involve guards.