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A self-consistent, two-dimensional, time-dependent, drift-diffusion model is developed to simulate the response of high power photoconductive switches. Effects of spatial inhomogeneities associated with the contact barrier potential are incorporated and shown to foster filamentation. Results of the dark current match the available experiment data. Persistent photoconductivity is shown to arise at a high bias even under the conditions of spatial uniformity. Filamentary currents require an inherent spatial inhomogeneity, and are more likely to occur for low optical excitation. Under strong uniform illumination, the spatial nonuniformities were quenched as a result of a polarization-induced collapse in the internal fields. However, strong electric fields resulting at the contacts create a bipolar plasma, and hence, a virtual “double injection.” © 1999 American Institute of Physics.