California Early Release Legislation Causing an Upheaval

The legislation, releasing many low level offenders from California’s jails and prisons, has finally gone into effect. Out of approximately 6,500 low level offenders, more than 1500 inmates already have been released from custody. So far San Bernardino County has released 648 inmates. Riverside County has released approximately 170 inmates. Orange County has released more than 300 inmates. Sacramento County has released approximately 200 inmates. In the next few weeks Ventura County is slated to release over 200 inmates, with more than 400 additional inmates to follow.

The law modifies the calculations of how much time off an inmate would receive for good behavior. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger felt that this would help reduce the inmate population and thereby reduce the state’s financial obligations. The driving force behind this decision was California’s financial crisis as well as certain court rulings with respect to overcrowding in California’s prisons.

Although the Counties mentioned took the position that the amended Section 4019 of the California Penal Code applies to both state and county facilities, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is refusing to comply with the legislation. LA County argues that the new law applies only to state prisons and not to county jails. As such, no inmates have been released under the new law from the Los Angeles County jails such as the Twin Towers, Mens Central Jail and other facilities like the North County, formerly known as Pitchess Detention Center.

There is dissent in Sacramento as well. On Wednesday, a Sacramento Judge, Loren E. McMaster, ordered that Sacramento County temporarily stop these early releases, arguing that the subject law does not apply to county jails.

It remains to be seen, how this will resolve. Needless to say, the new legislature is causing quite a reaction.

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