New push to exempt California’s county jails from inmate-release law

by Shelby Grad and Andrew Blankstein (LA Times)
February 20, 2010

There is a new move in Sacramento to exempt county jails from an early-release law designed to ease overcrowding at state prisons.

More than 2,000 inmates have been released from county jails in the last month in response to the law, a Times review has found.

There has been much debate about whether the law applies to county jails. This week California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown sent a bulletin to local law enforcement agencies saying the law does cover county jail inmates. The bulletin said some counties miscalculated the release times of some inmates, but it did not recommend stopping early releases.

The legislation was signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year.

Officials have said that over the next year it would reduce the prison population by releasing 6,500 “low-level” offenders, including inmates incarcerated for nonviolent crimes such as theft and drug possession. The state prison system has not yet released prisoners early under the terms of the law.

On Thursday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Perk blocked an immediate attempt by the union representing Orange County sheriff’s deputies to temporarily prevent early releases there, where more than 400 have occurred since the law took effect Jan. 25.

Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, an author of the original law, filed amendments Friday aimed at clarifying that the law only applies to state prison. As currently written, most counties have concluded it also applies to their jails. The one major exception has been L.A. County, which has not released any inmates early in response to the law.

“There’s some chaos out there,” Torrico told the Associated Press. “I can’t imagine anyone is going to oppose this. We’re talking about public safety.”

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