Early Release from CA Prisons Now a Flood
Spurred by a series of court decisions ruling the state’s prison crowding unconstitutional, Gov. Jerry Brown’s ongoing “realignment” effort sought to make adequate room for the state’s worst convicts by diverting lesser criminals to county jails. There, however, the changes have caused a snowball effect. A recent Los Angeles Times investigation has shown that newly encumbered counties turned to early release to lighten their own load — sending serious offenders back out on the streets with only a fraction of time served.
Analyzing jail data, the Times discovered that “incarceration in some counties has been curtailed or virtually eliminated for a variety of misdemeanors, including parole violations, domestic violence, child abuse, drug use and driving under the influence.” In Los Angeles County, where one in four jailed Californians are found, 10 percent of time served was “often” enough to release male inmates back into society, compared to just 5 percent for female inmates.
With a prison system as complex and bureaucratic as California’s, the perils of early release have proven to be just the tip of the iceberg of unintended consequences. In recent months, for instance, even parole violators have wound up in county, not state, jails. Los Angeles County has had to add 500 staffers to cope with the new flood of probationers, while Riverside County alone has added over 140.
The cumulative effect has been a so-called “revolving door” in the jail system, with the line blurring between the incarcerated and the law-abiding public...