Confusion Abounds as California Implements Prisoner Release Law
As I blogged about a couple of weeks ago, a new California law recently went into effect that’s expected to release about 6,500 prisoners over the next year. Already, more than 1,500 inmates have been released from county jails throughout the state. Though 6,500 is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of inmates California will eventually need to release to fix its overcrowding problem, even this relatively limited prisoner release law is already sowing widespread confusion and discontent around the state. A quick Google News search will turn up a steady stream of coverage from local news sources lamenting the law, predicting it will endanger public safety and burden local law enforcement; see, e.g., here, here, and here), and the law has even triggered a lawsuit in Sacramento. Central to the confusion is a dispute over whether the law applies to county jails at all, or only to state prisons. The Los Angeles Times reports:
More than 1,500 inmates have been released from county jails around California in response to legislation designed to cut the state prison population, prompting an outcry from some law enforcement officials.
More than 300 inmates have been released in Orange County in the last few weeks and about 200 in Sacramento County, including a man who allegedly assaulted a woman hours after getting early release from jail.
A Sacramento County judge Wednesday ordered a temporary halt in that county’s early releases, saying the legislation applies only to state prisons and not to county jails. The judge sided with the deputy sheriff’s union, which filed suit against the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department to block the releases.
Officials in Sacramento, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and other counties have said their legal counsels advised them that the law did apply to county jails, and they created release plans when the law took effect in January.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department takes the opposite position and has not released any inmates early because of the law. L.A. County requires that most male inmates serve 80% of their sentence, and officials said they won’t reduce that requirement because of the new law.
“We have no plans to release anyone from county jail based on what the state is doing,” said Steve Whitmore, a sheriff’s spokesman. “We don’t think it applies to us.”