San Bernardino County begins releasing inmates early

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department will begin releasing about 150 inmates Friday due to overcrowding in county jails, the result of California’s controversial prison diversion program.

San Bernardino County Sheriff Rod Hoops decided to release the inmates, mostly parole violators or those convicted of nonviolent crimes, over the next five days. The inmates have to have served at least half of their sentence, and have less than 30 days remaining on their sentence.

The move is a result of a U.S.  Supreme Court decision requiring the state to lower its prison  population by 30,000. To meet this mandate, inmates convicted of certain crimes who would have initially served their sentences in state prison now must serve their time in county jails.

Up until now, San Bernardino County managed to keep the jails from overcrowding through work-release and other programs. But with the system rapidly approaching capacity, the sheriff opted to make more room for new arrestees and higher priority inmates.

The parole violators being released will have their criminal and custody history examined, and they will be placed under the supervision of state parole officers.

Meanwhile, Southern California counties have reported seeing much higher numbers of state prisoners entering the local jails than officials had predicted, prompting local jurisdictions to speed up efforts to reopen shuttered jail wings and to find other arrangements for some inmates.

County jails are receiving extra state funding to help house the prisoners, but some doubt whether the money will be enough to avoid releasing some inmates. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he is considering a plan to release some inmates who are awaiting trial and outfit them with electronic monitoring devices.

Other counties are also considering major expansions of house-arrest programs, as well as channeling some nonviolent inmates into mental health and substance abuse programs.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has the funding to open an additional 1,800 beds, but the county is expected to take on 8,000 state prisoners in the next year, according to an internal report by the district attorney’s office. The jails could reach capacity in December, the report found.

Some counties, including Los Angeles, are under court order preventing jail overcrowding. So officials said that some inmates will be released to make way for the state prisoners.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has warned that none of the alternatives are ideal. For example, she said, she’s unsure how many inmates can be trusted to serve time wearing GPS-monitored bracelets.

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